The script really couldn’t have been written any better for the prodigal son’s return.
Two goals, a screamer from his Portuguese pal and a late one from Jesse Lingard sent the Old Trafford crowd in ecstasy, Sir Alex Ferguson nodding in approval and the club’s executives rubbing their hands at the ringing of the cash tills.
The United media channels had milked every bit of content in the build-up to Cristiano Ronaldo’s second coming – his arrival in the UK, his first training session at Carrington, his chat with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – it was all carefully stage-managed and packaged glossily to their global fan-base.
The script really couldn’t have been written any better for Cristiano Ronaldo’s return
The hype reached fever pitch with an audible buzz around Old Trafford hours before kick-off
The massive ‘Here We Belong’ banner on the front of the stadium has been changed to incorporate a prominent image of the Portuguese superstar looking moodily over his left shoulder.
Inevitably, the front cover of the match day programme was dedicated to him.
The said ‘The path we’ve made together is written in gold letter’, including the words ‘Welcome Home Cristiano Ronaldo’.
And on Saturday the hype reached fever pitch with an audible buzz around Old Trafford hours before kick-off as they showed re-runs of some of his great moments and goals in his six-year stint between 2003-and 09.
The ‘Here We Belong’ banner has been changed to incorporate a prominent image of the Portuguese superstar
There were queues outside the mega store with fans continue to buy Ronaldo shirts like the proverbial hot cakes. Even though it was an all-ticket game, there were queues outside the turnstiles even before they opened with fans not wanting to miss the moment Ronaldo came out to warm-up.
And when the team coach arrived fans strained over the security fences to catch a pre-match glimpse of the man of the moment, who was wearing a Covid face mask as he entered the ground winking at familiar faces in the tunnel on his way to the dressing room.
When he trotted out with his team-mates the roar was almost as loud as if United had scored. He clapped his hands above his head in recognition and then got on with his preparation as chants of ‘Viva Ronaldo’ rolled down from the Stretford End and echoed round the stadium.
Old Trafford had not seen anything quite like it since Eric Cantona’s long-awaited return from his eight-month suspension following his infamous kung-fu attack on a Crystal Palace fan at Selhurst Park in 1995.
There was a huge roar when the teams were announced and Ronaldo was confirmed as starting
Dec – he of Ant and Dec fame – must have feared the worst as a Newcastle fan. After all, it was against the Geordies that Ronaldo scored his only Premier League hat-trick back in 2008.
You could barely turn a corner without bumping into a former United player either working for the media or in the hospitality lounges. John O’Shea, Wes Brown, Mikael Silvestre were all present as was Sam Allardyce, manager of the Bolton side who Ronaldo made his debut against 18 years ago and ordered Nicky Hunt to give him the teenage prodigy ‘a good kick’ to see how he reacted.
Hunt struggled to lay a punch on him that day, admitting he was mesmerised by his fancy footwork, and that’s been an all too familiar tale for defenders over the years.
There was a huge roar when the teams were announced and Ronaldo was confirmed as a starter alongside Jadon Sancho and Mason Greenwood. There was an even bigger roar when he trotted out to warm-up with his team-mates and bigger still every time he found the net during the pre-game shooting practice.
Dec – he of Ant and Dec fame – must have feared the worst as a Newcastle fan
Chants of ‘Viva Ronaldo’ rolled down from the Stretford End and round the stadium throughout the game but after all the build-up, the first half was almost an anti-climax with United struggling to break down a well-disciplined Newcastle team – until Ronaldo – almost inevitably – scored in added time.
It was one of the least spectacular goals of his amazing career but no-one inside Old Trafford cared. When Freddie Woodman spilled Mason Greenwood’s shot Ronaldo was there in the six-yard box to tap the ball in.
It underlined what he has become now in the latter stages of his career – a penalty-area predator rather than the fleet-footed winger who first arrived at United in 2003.
Newcastle boss Steve Bruce had said his team would attempt to spoil the party and they did just that 10 minutes into the second half with a fine break away goal.
Miguel Almiron’s surging run saw him split open the United defence. He picked out Alain Saint-Maximin who fed the overlapping Javier Manquillo and he beat David De Gea with a fine first time shot.
His first goal was one of the least spectacular goals of his amazing career but no-one inside Old Trafford cared
But Ronaldo didn’t take long to come came to the rescue – about six minutes to be precise. After a superb pitch-length move, he raced into Luke Shaw’s through ball to fire a shot that went through Woodman’s legs.
That put United back in charge and Bruno Fernandes – who helped persuade Ronaldo to re-join United after hard-up Juventus were forced to sell – sealed the points with the best goal of the game.
Ronaldo didn’t complete his hat-trick and it was left to substitute Jesse Lingard put the gloss on the day with a fine finish in added time.
That’s 10 goals in two home games for United this season and with Ronaldo back in the fold their punters can surely look forward to plenty more goal-fests.
Ronaldo didn’t take long to come came to the rescue after Javi Manquillo had equalised