Jim White

Ronaldo rides to the rescue

Jim White

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"Yes, I'm going to stay at Manchester United. I will stay at least for this season. Ferguson heard my reasons, I heard his, and indeed we had an agreement that the best solution for both parties would be if I stay. Therefore, I can confirm that next season I will play at Manchester United."

These were the words that every Manchester United fan wanted to hear. Cristiano Ronaldo will be wearing a red shirt at least for another year. No more talk of Madrid. No more boasting about how good he looks in white. No more nonsense about slavery. At least for the next twelve months the lad will be gracing Old Trafford.

To be fair to him, the man with the mahogany tan was honest about who was responsible for all the speculation and frenzy over the summer. He admitted to hitching up his skirts in the hope of catching a roving Spanish eye.

"My desire was, for a while, for Manchester to accept [the bid] to sell me to Madrid," he said. "To say the opposite would be cheating people and my own conscience."

But then he added a rider which suggests that he might not regard the opportunity to continue playing with the finest squad in Europe as the summit of his career.

"I will continue to admire the Spanish club as I have done since I was a boy," he said. "I do want to play there one day and my ambition to go there remains."

So there you have it. This is a temporary measure, a pause in the creation of the wider Ronaldo myth. Still, it means for a season at least United supporters will retain the privilege of seeing the world's finest footballer once more performing his step-overs, engaging in his trickery and slamming home his goals in their cause.

Any animosity that might have been felt about his strenuous efforts to join the club of his youthful infatuation will disappear the first time he makes a difference. Because that is what Ronaldo did last season: he made the difference. However you look at it, however you value the contribution of Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra or Wayne Rooney, it was Ronaldo and his 42 goals that won the Champions League and Premier League double for United. He was the one who did it.

And how his manager must wish he could do it again soon. Frankly, as United prepare for the Community Shield against Portsmouth on Sunday his value to the red cause could not be put in more stark measure.

United, remember, were the club who pioneered the idea of rotating four strikers when they won the treble in 1999 with Dwight Yorke, Andrew Cole, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Last season, Ferguson went with three, one of whom was Louis Saha, a man who spends so much time in the treatment room he may well have his own entry in the medical encyclopedias.

Now with Wayne Rooney suffering from a virus and Saha taking his sick note to Sunderland, Ferguson's up front options are restricted to Carlos Tevez and Frazier Campbell. With Ryan Giggs - unlike Ronaldo a man whose dreams have never been anything other than tinged in red - as an ever-willing stand by. Ronaldo's return cannot come soon enough. He is already resembling the US Cavalry.

And yet, even though he is not available, Ferguson will be secretly delighted he has tied up Ronaldo for the near future. It was vital he did so. It preserves perhaps his proudest record as United manager. Not once in his quarter century at Old Trafford has he seen a player depart against his wishes: Beckham, Ince, Stam, van Nistelrooy, even Keane went on the manager's terms, often with the manager's size 12 tattooing their backside.

He could not allow Ronaldo to go before his time. Particularly now United are European champions, they cannot have clubs like Madrid sniffing around their finest stars. For their own sense of self it had to be done this way. A compromise had to be reached, so that when the time comes for Ronaldo to disappear off southwards as he has always dreamed, it can be on United's terms.

Mind, if you want to know where the precedent lies for this sort arrangement, it is there in United's recent past. Remember when Owen Hargreaves declared he wanted to join United and Bayern Munich told him he couldn't? A year later he had packed his bags and headed to Old Trafford. So now you know whose idea it was.

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