The script couldn’t be written better for the return of the prodigal son.
Two goals, one from his Portuguese friend and one late goal from Jesse Lingard, sent the Old Trafford crowd into ecstasy. Sir Alex Ferguson nodded in approval, and the club’s executives were rubbing their hands at hearing the cash registers ring.
The United media channels had sucked every last bit of content during the build-up Cristiano Ronaldo’s second come. His arrival in the UK and his first Carrington training session were all staged. They also got to chat with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, their manager.
The huge ‘Here We Belong” banner at the stadium’s front has been altered to include a prominent image featuring the Portuguese superstar looking down his left shoulder.
He was the subject of the front cover for the match day program.
“The path we have walked together is written in gold letter,” the statement reads, with the words “Welcome home Cristiano Ronaldo”.
On Saturday, the excitement reached fever pitch as Old Trafford was filled with a buzz hours before kick-off. They showed reruns of some of his greatest moments and goals during his six-year tenure between 2003 and 09.
Fans continue to purchase Ronaldo shirts as hot cakes, despite the fact that there were long lines outside the mega-store. Fans didn’t want to miss Ronaldo warming up, even though it was an all-ticket event. There were lines outside the turnstiles before the game opened.
Fans strained to get a glimpse of the coach as he arrived at the ground. He was wearing a Covid mask and was smiling at the familiar faces as he made his way to the dressing rooms.
He walked out with his teammates and the roar was almost as loud that if United had scored. In recognition, he raised his hands to his head and continued his preparations as chants of Viva Ronaldo rolled down from Stretford End. They echoed around the stadium.
Old Trafford hadn’t seen anything like it since Eric Cantona returned from an eight-month suspension that followed his famous kung-fu attack at Selhurst Park on a Crystal Palace fan in 1995.
Dec, the Ant and Dec legend, must have been afraid of the worst as a Newcastle supporter. Ronaldo’s only Premier League hat trick was scored against the Geordies in 2008.
It was difficult to turn a corner and not bump into an ex-United player, either in the media or in the hospitality suites. John O’Shea and Wes Brown were there, as was Sam Allardyce who managed the Bolton side Ronaldo made his debut against 18-years ago. He ordered Nicky Hunt give the teenager prodigy “a good kick” to see how he responded.
Hunt was unable to punch him that day. He admitted that he was enchanted by Hunt’s fancy footwork and it was a familiar story for defenders.
When the teams were announced, there was a great roar and Ronaldo was named as a starter along with Jadon Sancho (and Mason Greenwood). He was greeted by a bigger roar as he walked out to warm up with his teammates and a bigger one each time he hit the net during pre-game shooting practice.
Chants of Viva Ronaldo echoed from the Stretford End to the stadium throughout the match. However, after all the buildup, the first period was almost anticlimactic with United struggling against a disciplined Newcastle team – until Ronaldo – almost inexorably – scored in the second half.
Although it was not the most spectacular goal of his remarkable career, no one at Old Trafford seemed to care. Ronaldo was in the six yard box to tap in the ball when Mason Greenwood’s shot was lost by Freddie Woodman.
This was a clear indication of what he is now, in the final stages of his career: a penalty-area predator and not the agile winger who first arrived in United in 2003.
Steve Bruce, Newcastle manager, had stated that his team would try to ruin the party. They did this 10 minutes into the second period with a fine goal breakaway.
Miguel Almiron’s surge saw him break open the United defense. He chose Alain Saint-Maximin, who fed Javier Manquillo. David De Gea was defeated with a great first shot.
Ronaldo came quickly to Ronaldo’s rescue, taking just six minutes. After a pitch-length move, he ran into Luke Shaw’s through ball and fired a shot that pierced Woodman’s legs.
United was relegated to second place and Bruno Fernandes, who helped Ronaldo re-join United after a difficult-up Juventus were forced into liquidation, won the match with the best goal.
Ronaldo failed to complete his hat trick and it was left to Jesse Lingard to put the gloss on it with an added finish.
This is United’s second home game with 10 goals. With Ronaldo back, their punters can look forward to many more goal-fests.