Simply put, soccer fans have had a summer for the ages. Tournaments, transfers, world records—all produced on the sport’s biggest stage. Emotions rolling and ricocheting around like a world-sized foosball machine. The fact that world soccer as we know it almost collapsed at the feet of the “Super League” in April now seems a world away (The Miscellany News, “European Super League Falters, showcasing power of fan activism,” 04.29.2021). With all the news and headlines, one man just couldn’t stand not coming out on top of this unforgettable summer, especially when his historic rival had already cemented his claim with a blockbuster move to PSG. So, as he always has done––with style, drama, attention-grabbing and the unbelievable––Cristiano Ronaldo returned to Manchester United in the last week of the transfer window, launching the soccer world into yet another frenzy, perhaps the biggest yet.
There were rumors of the world superstar leaving Serie A club Juventus back in May. Juventus, who is facing losses of up to €300 million from the past two years, wasn’t exactly pushing out Ronaldo, who had one year left on his contract, but weren’t going to say no if he and his hefty paycheck departed (ESPN, “Ronaldo’s return to Man United has shocked the soccer world. Here’s why,” 08.27.2021). As for Ronaldo, after a disappointing year in which Juventus failed to win Serie A and was knocked out of the Champions League in the round of 16, it seemed that it was perhaps time to move on. At the age of 36, his time to win another Champions League was waning, and it was perhaps time he had his sights set on his next club. Not that he has anything to prove, though. After five Ballon D’ors, 32 trophies (including five Champions League titles and an UEFA European Championship) and recently achieving the record for most international goals by a male player, he is already one of the greatest ever. But whether it’s his famous insatiable drive to win, or the fact that Lionel Messi just joined superpower PSG, it’s clear Ronaldo is not close to hanging up the cleats.
Despite the whispers of his departure in late spring, he seemed destined to stay in Turin, Italy for at least another year to play out his contract until mid-August. Whispers morphed into rumors and then full-on straight-from-the-source reports as it became clear that Ronaldo wanted out. After a story emerged that he yearned for a return to former club Real Madrid, both Ronaldo and the club publicly denied it, but the fact that the rumors were addressed at all prompted a flurry of suspicions. Soon after, Ronaldo’s agent Jorge Mendes flew to Turin to inform Juventus that Ronaldo did indeed plan to leave, this time to Manchester City. Juventus greenlighted the departure, but were quick to include that they would require a €28 million bid, and Mendes assured that the deal was imminent. Curiously, Mendes then flew to Paris to try his luck with PSG, but was quickly let down as PSG was not interested, as the club already boasts a not-too-shabby front trio of Messi, Mbappe, and Neymar (ESPN, “Ronaldo’s return to Man United has shocked the soccer world. Here’s why,” 08.27.2021).
When this didn’t come to fruition, Mendes reached out to Manchester United, while still negotiating with Man City. The next day, the media caught wind of Mendes’ jet setting, and it seemed a Ronaldo sweepstakes had emerged. Unsurprisingly, Man City didn’t seem to take kindly to Mendes’ visits and Juventus’ fee. They seemed to begin pulling out when City manager Pep Guardiola said to reporters, “Cristiano will decide where wants to play, not Manchester City or myself… Right now it seems far away.” At the same time, United manager Ole Solskjaer replied to the media, “I didn’t think Cristiano would leave Juventus. If he ever wants to move away from Juventus, he knows we are here… Let’s see what happens with Cristiano.” The door had officially opened. Real Madrid declined. PSG said no. And finally, City pulled out. Ronaldo fell right back into the laps of United for a transfer fee of €15 million and a new two-year contract (ESPN, “Ronaldo’s return to Man United has shocked the soccer world. Here’s why,” 08.27.2021); (BBC, “Cristiano Ronaldo to Man Utd: ‘I’m back where I belong’ and dedicates return to Sir Alex Ferguson,” 08.31.2021).
It is no secret that Ronaldo still harbored affections for the club that had given him his start: his first league title, his first Champions league and his first Ballon D’or. It was an even bigger non-secret that United was still in love with their old superstar, so when the possibility was presented, fans, former teammates, current United players and old coaches alike did their best to persuade, even beg, Ronaldo to come home to them (ESPN, “How Man United Persuaded Cristiano Ronaldo to reject Juventus and Man City, return to Old Trafford,” 08.30.2021).
And this is when Ronaldo knew he had won the summer. He was going home. And he was going to do it in style. A last-minute decision to return to a franchise that loved and needed him. When rival Lionel Messi decided to leave his beloved Barcelona, the world shook and lamented the end of an iconic era. Fans cried and marveled at what seemed impossible for Messi’s career, but knew it had to come. Yet when Ronaldo announced his return to United, the surprise took the breath from the entire soccer world. Messi might’ve finally won his country a title and dominated headlines for his departure, but Ronaldo knew he had him beat with just one word. Homecoming.