It was no surprise that the moment Gareth Bale reportedly told Tottenham he wanted out, the player he is most regularly compared to was linked with a return to Old Trafford; because four years after leaving Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo is suddenly set for a sensational reunion with his former teammates.
At least he is if you believe the papers.
Those same papers spent about a month claiming Thiago Alcantara would be David Moyes’ first major signing, only for the Spaniard to move to Bayern Munich before denying United were ever interested.
Was he a smokescreen for United’s real target, later revealed as fellow Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas?
Were the headlines linking Thiago with an imminent move cannily placed breadcrumbs luring unsuspecting journalists to completely the wrong house? In so doing keeping their rivals guessing as to who the real target was?
Possibly, and yet unlikely, because had Moyes moved for Fabregas before Thiago joined the European champions, perhaps he would have his man by now. He certainly would have got all the toing-and-froing out of the way earlier, allowing him time to focus on alternatives if required.
Unless Fabregas is a smokescreen, too; because United have been unusually open in admitting their interest in the former Arsenal man; so much so that all other reported targets were – for a while at least – completely forgotten.
If reports are true that United have been in talks with Real Madrid for nearly two weeks, suddenly the club’s openness, twinned with chief executive Ed Woodward’s early departure from United’s pre-season tour, makes far more sense.
Of course the Ronaldo rumours are just as much paper-talk as the Fabregas and Thiago ones before them. And of all three players, only Fabregas has been confirmed as a target by the club themselves. And yet a return for Ronaldo makes more sense the more it is pondered.
Still refusing to sign a new contract, and with a younger model seemingly imminent, the Portuguese may see his time in Spain as a dream lived if not fully realised – such has been the domestic dominance of Barcelona.
On a personal level, Ronaldo’s time in Spain so far has been nothing short of spectacular. There is no denying he is a better player now than he was when he bid farewell to Manchester.
And yet I have an inkling – and yes, that is all it is – that United fans haven’t seen the last of their former hero, and that their transfer business isn’t as hamstrung as many fear.
So perhaps both Thiago and Fabregas were smokescreens for the biggest deal of them all.
Or perhaps United are daring to dream that they can sign both the Barcelona midfielder and the Real forward, transforming their team overnight.
Do you believe the rumours linking Ronaldo with a return to Old Trafford? And could United be after both him and Fabregas?
image: © Paolo Camera