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Ronaldo Primed to Sack More Silverware
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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 Premiership.

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)

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