Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Return of Ronaldo
Welcome back to Manchester. Cristiano Ronaldo returns to the city where he made the transformation from irritatingly erratic teenager to the most expensive footballer in history for the first time since his 2009 move to Madrid.
It took £80 million to prise him from Manchester United's grasp and while Sir Alex Ferguson said he would welcome the Portuguese back to Old Trafford, Roberto Mancini is now the manager with Ronaldo on his mind.
The question for the Italian is how to stop a player with 165 goals in 162 games for Real, with 59 for club and country in 2012 alone and a last-minute winner against City, at the Bernabeu in September, to his name. "Ronaldo has a big impact on every game," Mancini said. "A player that scores one or two goals every game is an incredible player."
There was a time when Carlos Tevez was grateful for Ronaldo's remarkable return in front of goal. They became team-mates in 2007 when the Argentine joined United from West Ham. Along with Wayne Rooney, the duo formed part of a fluid front three, where the supposed strikers were outscored by the nominal winger.
Ronaldo's 42-goal haul in the 2007-08 season was the highest total recorded in Manchester since Denis Law, who paved the way for Tevez by representing both halves of the city, struck 46 times 44 years earlier. By helping United win the Premier and Champions Leagues, Ronaldo achieved a double of his own, claiming the Ballon d'Or and the World Player of the Year award.
He is campaigning for similar recognition again after helping Real win La Liga and Portugal reach the semi-finals of Euro 2012. If Tevez had a vote, however, it would not be cast for a former team-mate, but a colleague in his country's colours.
"I think it is only right if Cristiano does believe he is the best in the world," the Argentine said. "Any guy who gets 37 to 40 goals a season has a right to believe that and is one of the best in the world, but if you push me I am always going to go on the side of [Lionel] Messi."
If both can appear unstoppable, scoring at the rate of players like Pele, Eusebio and Gerd Muller, rather than men confronted by modern-day defences, Tevez's advice is easier said than followed: keep Ronaldo as far away from goal as possible.
"I think that you have got to try and make sure he doesn't get in behind you," he said, wary of his old ally's pace. A warning followed that Ronaldo's ability to dribble the ball at speed and shoot with either foot are also key components of his attacking armoury.
"Once he gets a chance to face up to you and run at you with the ball he is very, very dangerous and he strikes the ball well too," he said. "You have to try and stop him further up the field because once he gets to the [penalty] area he becomes a handful. We will have to keep a special eye on him, as he is such a good player."
Unless Mancini risks playing Maicon against the world's most devastating winger, that responsibility will probably fall to Tevez's compatriot Pablo Zabaleta, often the man granted the most unenviable tasks. Ten days after he subdued Gareth Bale, the right-back's next mission is still harder: halt Ronaldo.
A man accustomed to life in the limelight is unlikely to be worried by the added attention, Tevez thinks. "Cristiano is one of the best players in the world and he will play in this game the way he always has done," he said. "He does not seem to feel pressure, and there will be no added pressure just because he is back in Manchester."
Long-standing City fans may disagree; two of Ronaldo's four United red cards came at the Etihad Stadium. He was last seen shaking his head with incredulity after being sent off for handling Rooney's corner when under the illusion the referee's whistle had already blown.
It was a time when City were awash with cash, less than three months after Sheikh Mansour's takeover. There had been speculation the world's richest club wanted the man who would become its costliest player. Instead, Tevez, an unused substitute that November day, became the man to cross Manchester. Then, however, they were celebrating the flair player whose signing was supposed to mark their arrival among the elite.
Even before his dismissal, the City crowd had crowed to Ronaldo: "You're not Robinho." He certainly isn't. But as City contemplate the reunion with the man who set them on the path to an early exit from the Champions League, they have plenty of reasons to wish it was Robinho, not Ronaldo, they are facing.