Cristiano Ronaldo couldn’t have asked for a better second debut as he made his sensational return for Manchester United against Newcastle on Saturday afternoon.
Ronaldo scored over 550 club goals for Real Madrid and Juventus in all competitions in the 12 years he was away – his worst single season in that time was equal to United’s best top scorer since last winning the Premier League in 2013 – and he didn’t skip so much as a single beat.
Despite the hype that surround his transfer back to Manchester, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner has had more than his fair share of criticism from cynics who believed that, suddenly, he would no longer be able to hack it in English football.
No United fan who was excited about Ronaldo’s return expected it to be exactly the same as it was in 2009. He is 12 years older than he was back then and is now a completely different player.
No longer the electric winger, Ronaldo is a ruthless centre-forward. He scored 101 goals in only three seasons at Juventus – proving he is still world class – and it was insulting for critics to claim that he would be anything other than a success in a league he has already conquered .
It took until first-half stoppage time for Newcastle to crack and Ronaldo to get the goal that United fans both inside Old Trafford and around the world were desperate to see.
Even though it was the number seven on his back, it was a proper number nine’s goal, underlining his role in the team this time around, as he gobbled up a close-range rebound after Newcastle goalkeeper Freddie Woodman spilled a Mason Greenwood shot at his feet.
Ronaldo’s second goal, which restored United’s lead after Newcastle had got back on level terms through Javier Manquillo, was a completely different kind of goal. It highlighted the sharpness that he brings to the attack, a cutting edge that hasn’t often been there in recent years.
The 36-year-old intelligently pulled into the gap between Newcastle’s wing-back and outer centre-back, showed that he still has enough speed to stay ahead of much younger players, and finished clinically with his weaker foot through the goalkeeper’s legs.
United went on to win the match 4-1 thanks to additional goals from Bruno Fernandes and Jesse Lingard, but it was Ronaldo who proved decisive on the day and broke Newcastle spirits.
This is just the start of the second chapter.