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Ronaldo’s Return to Manchester United Is Nostalgic Pragmatism

After flirting with joining Manchester City, Cristiano Ronaldo will instead head back to the team where he became a star. The reality is, almost no other club could afford him.

Massimiliano Allegri, given the circumstances, was surprisingly phlegmatic. His team’s first home game of the season was just a couple of days away, and the Juventus coach had just been told that the player around whom his club had painstakingly constructed its modern identity was no longer available for selection.

There was no debate, no back and forth, no discussion. It had been decided. Allegri was nothing more than an observer. Juventus did not have a say in the matter. Cristiano Ronaldo had no intention of playing for the club again. He would be leaving, effective immediately. And that was that.

Admittedly, the news probably did not come as a shock to Allegri. It was not yet a week since Ronaldo had declared it might be best for him not to start Juventus’ opening fixture of the campaign. An injury might jeopardize his chances of a move in the final throes of the summer transfer window. He would be a substitute, and nothing more.

There had been no fury then, and there would be no fury now. Allegri did not rail against the 36-year-old Ronaldo’s presumption, his willingness to dictate his terms to a club as venerable, as grand as Juventus. He did not chide Ronaldo for his lack of loyalty. He did not denounce him as a mercenary. Nobody from Juventus did. Coach, and club, simply acquiesced.

“Things change,” Allegri said in a news conference on Friday morning. “It’s a law of life.” A few hours later, Ronaldo was photographed boarding a private jet at the airport in Turin, Italy, where Juventus is based.

By that stage, he already knew what was only just starting to become apparent to the rest of the world: His ultimate destination would be Manchester United, the place he once called home, the club where he first established himself as one of the best players of this — or any — generation.

 

How that came to pass, from the account that has emerged from United, is a story centered not on anything so crude as money but altogether more heartwarming themes: romance, and love, and memory, and friendship.

On Thursday, it had become clear to United’s staff, its players and many of its former employees that there was a genuine prospect that Ronaldo might sign for Manchester City, its crosstown rival, a team that the player himself had not once, but twice declared he would “never” represent. “If you speak about the money, I will go to Qatar,” he had said in 2015.

His agent, Jorge Mendes, was speaking to Manchester City about the money, though — while what it would pay his client was not an issue, what it would pay Juventus was proving rather thorny — and that was enough to spook Manchester United into action. A raft of erstwhile teammates, including Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra, got in touch with him to urge him not to move to City; Wayne Rooney sent the same message publicly.

There were private entreaties, too, from Bruno Fernandes, his colleague with the Portuguese national team, from United’s current manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and perhaps most importantly from a former occupant of that post. Ronaldo has always maintained that he owes Alex Ferguson “everything.” This week, Ferguson’s intervention helped to pay back a little of that debt.

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