Manchester United probably wouldn’t have been most people’s pre-season favourites for the Champions League, but that has surely changed now with the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Portugal international absolutely loves this competition, and was a key part of Man Utd’s success when they last won it in his first spell at the club, scoring against Chelsea in the 2007/08 final victory in Moscow.
Since then, Ronaldo has enjoyed even more success as a Real Madrid player, winning the competition four times in his legendary career at the Bernabeu, scoring three goals in those finals, as well as the winning penalty in the shoot-out victory over Atletico Madrid in 2015/16.
Of course, winning with those great Real Madrid sides containing other serial winners and world class stars like Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric is one thing, but can the forward, now 36 years of age, enjoy one last hurrah in this competition in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s slightly unconvincing side?
Well, with a record like this in the knockout stages of Europe’s top club competition, there’s surely a chance…
Ronaldo’s numbers in what generally tends to be the highest level of club football really are something else, with even modern greats like Thierry Henry and Zlatan Ibrahimovic nowhere near his goal record in these big games.
Critics will point out that Ronaldo couldn’t deliver success to Juventus, but there are caveats to his spell in Turin: in three years, he played under three very different managers, with a once-great side very clearly in decline by the time they had another stab at this tournament last season.
At United, Ronaldo is arguably joining a more put-together side, which features several big-name signings by Solskjaer, who has had more and more time to grow into the job, achieving slightly more with each passing season he’s been at the club, even if silverware is yet to come.
Ronaldo should be a crucial addition to a team that sometimes lacked enough of a finishing touch last season, with Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial not really 25-30 goal-a-season players, while the ageing Edinson Cavani had a decent impact but didn’t play regularly.
The signing of Raphael Varane in defence should also make a big difference in helping Harry Maguire’s game, and giving Solskjaer a more solid foundation to build on, with his attack-minded side sometimes caught out for being a little naive in the past.
This is knockout football. Chelsea showed last season that there is an element of luck involved, and sometimes one player, in their case N’Golo Kante, can be enough of a driving force in this competition.
With more goals and more big-game experience, this really could be United’s time in Europe.