Cristiano Ronaldo could have gone in one of two directions at
Manchester United last season.
Derided and despised by English supporters for his part in the
World Cup send off of United team-mate Wayne Rooney during
Portugal's quarter-final penalty shoot-out victory in
Gelsenkirchen, Ronaldo could quite easily have packed his bags and
jetted off to Real Madrid or Barcelona, the two Spanish giants who
desperately fought for his signature.
The persuasive powers of United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who
jetted out to Portugal to convince Ronaldo to stay at Old Trafford,
were enough to keep the Madeira-born forward in the
And Ferguson's mercy dash proved crucial with Ronaldo scooping
both domestic Footballer of the Year awards last season as he
inspired United to their first Premiership title since 2003.
This time around, United start the campaign as favourites to
retain their title having splashed out more than 50million pounds
on new signings Owen Hargreaves, Nani and Anderson.
But even if United add to that shopping list by landing West
Ham's Carlos Tevez before the August 31 transfer deadline, Ronaldo
is certain to be the key man again.
His goalscoring feats last season, when he bagged more than 20
goals from a wide position, proved crucial for United and he has
already displayed matchwinning form on the club's pre-season tour
of the Far East.
Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes will all be major
figures again, but even Ronaldo's United team-mates acknowledge
that the 22-year-old has become their pivotal player.
Defender Wes Brown said: "Ronaldo is looking sharp again and he
can get even better. Mentally, he has got it and he's the sort of
player who always wants to do better the next season.
"I know he's young, but in the first few games of pre-season, he
has shown he is ready and firing for the new season. He's a very
hungry player and he wants to win things.
"He knows that last season was a great achievement for us to win
the League back but he wants more and I'm sure he wants to win
other things like the FA Cup and the Champions League, so he will
definitely be trying his hardest again this season."
United launch the defence of their title when they face Reading
at Old Trafford on August 12 and manager Ferguson admits he expects
the toughest challengers to be the usual suspects - Chelsea,
Liverpool and Arsenal.
He said: "I expect Arsenal to improve and I don't think they'll
suffer too much without Thierry Henry. His time had gone and I
think Arsene Wenger knew that. They need more goals, but they've
got Emmanuel Adebayor and they'll have Robin van Persie back, so
they're not too bad, are they?"
"Liverpool have bought a group of players, right enough.
Fernando Torres is athletic and he's brave and he'll run the
channels for them, which he did well for Atletico Madrid. Chelsea
have strengthened too, so it will be a tough league again."
(China Daily via AFP July 30, 2007)