In retrospect, it’s easy to forget how close Cristiano Ronaldo was to putting on Manchester City’s blue shirt.
In the summer of 2021, Harry Kane manager Pep Guardiola, who had missed his number one goal, desperately needed an option in advance.
City researched the market to find an alternative solution and found limited options.
The level of strikers Catalan and his team needed were either too expensive or hard to land.
But as the summer transfer window draws to a close, a shocking possibility has emerged. Cristiano Ronaldo wanted to leave Juventus and was willing to make the switch, despite his deep-rooted ties to fierce rivals United.
On social media, Manchester United fans began to melt over the prospect of their former idol joining the team across town.
He was rejected by his staunch supporters, and there was fierce debate over the effect this had on his ‘legend’ status.
However, when full agreement seemed to be imminent, the situation was reversed. It was instantly certain that Ronaldo would instead join United.
It was the Portuguese star’s former teammates and coaches who convinced him not to go to City in the 11th hour.
He came to Old Trafford on a two-year deal close to $50 million.
Ronaldo revealed how close he was to the move in his latest bombshell interview with Piers Morgan.
“To be honest, he was close. They talked a lot, and Guardiola said two weeks ago they tried so hard to have me,” he told the media personality.
“But as you know my background is at Manchester United. Your heart feels the way you have felt before and that made the difference.”
He added that the intervention of his former boss, Sir Alex Ferguson, was crucial.
“Sir Alex Ferguson was key,” Ronaldo continued, “I spoke to him'[and] He said to me, ‘It is impossible for you to come to Manchester City’. I said, ‘Okay boss.
“It was a good moment, no one expected it. Things changed in 72 hours.”
City objected to this version of events. His response to the interview told local reporters that the club was “interested in signing Ronaldo” but denied “how hard it worked to get him to Etihad to the extent Ronaldo has claimed”.
Pep Guardiola’s words in 2021 tell a slightly different story.
“Ronaldo will decide where he wants to play. Not Manchester City, not me,” he said at the time.
“These types of players decide. [Lionel] Messi decided to go to Paris, they knocked on the door, they called.”
These words sound almost painfully ironic, now halfway through his two-year Manchester United deal, Ronaldo finding himself out of work, his contract canceled after his explosive pre-World Cup interview.
Ronaldo is left to think about moving to Saudi Arabia instead of looking for the club he wants to go to, that’s the lack of interest from European teams.
You can’t help but wonder how things would have gone if he had signed for City.
Ronaldo: Myth vs. Reality
Before he signed to United, and indeed, one of the reasons City was associated with Ronaldo was that the Portuguese star was believed to have transformed his game from a skilled winger to a high striker.
While it’s hard to argue that the scoring record was anything but a striker, he didn’t play in the middle, as it was quickly learned when he came to United.
Ronaldo opted for the outside left position instead, scoring goals on the flank, but taking up a spot on the team normally reserved for an exciting young player.
Not only have talents like Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford moved to accommodate the new star, their form has visibly dropped.
At City, Ronaldo would kick players from an already well-stocked position. Last season’s options included $100 million Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling.
Another myth that was shattered when his United career was in its infancy had to do with his work rate.
When he signed the contract, there was a feeling he had bought the Red Devils top pro, a man whose dedication on and off the court was contagious.
The manager of the period, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, said this much when the deal was announced.
“It takes a very special person to have the will and ability to play at the highest level for such a long time. I have no doubt that he will continue to impress us all and that his experience will be crucial to the young players on the roster.”
It soon became clear during the matches that the man in his late thirties did not have the thirst to shut down the opponents who came to characterize the modern game.
He might be at the peak of his physical condition, but that meant little if he was unwilling to travel the grueling distances towards his own goal.
The arrival of new manager Erik Ten Hag didn’t help much, the former Ajax manager’s philosophy was built around suffocating opponents who had the ball.
There have even been stories suggesting that he “push back Ten Hag’s methods by questioning certain pressure exercises”, a move that led to Ronaldo being kicked out of the team.
One of the key tenets of Manchester City’s tactical strategy is to work off the ball, and it’s hard to imagine any other outcome other than Ten Hag’s with Guardiola.
But all that said, it would be foolish to think that City had entered into any deal with Ronaldo’s eyes closed.
Guardiola must have known that he is unlikely to press and will play on the left.
From Robert Lewandoski to Andreas Iniesta, from Arjen Robben to Raheem Sterling, the most underrated quality of a coach is his adaptability. Catalan made the most of all the different types of players on the different systems.
Today City plays in a very different style than when it first took over, even compared to a few years ago.
While his move to United may seem like a missed lead right now, you wouldn’t bet against him developing a system that makes the most of Ronaldo.