When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sat down for last Friday’s media conference and said Cristiano Ronaldo “knows where we are”, the Manchester United manager already knew the club legend would be returning to Old Trafford.
Despite widespread speculation Ronaldo was set to join rivals Manchester City, United officials were reasonably confident on Thursday night that momentum around the five-time Ballon D’Or winner returning to the Premier League was shifting away from Etihad Stadium and four miles across Manchester to Old Trafford.
The final push came the following morning, when former United manager Sir Alex Ferguson got involved.
The bond between Ferguson and Ronaldo is strong. Ronaldo still referred to the Scot as ‘The Boss’ long after his exit for Real Madrid in 2009.
Ferguson implored Ronaldo to return to Old Trafford, knowing he will be feted as a hero. The alternative would be to tarnish a reputation that, if anything, has grown even bigger as United struggled to recapture former glories since Ferguson’s retirement in 2013.
Ferguson’s words followed up encouraging messages from Ronaldo’s former team-mates Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra. Another former team-mate and current United technical director Darren Fletcher was mentioned to BBC Sport as also being part of an orchestrated effort, which also involved Ronaldo’s Portugal team-mate Bruno Fernandes.
And there was more to this transfer than a late charm offensive.
I am told one senior United figure said to Ferguson that he would prefer to “gouge his own eyes out” rather than allow City to sign a player so associated with United.
Yet the club has already spent a lot of money this summer and detailed chats were needed between the Glazer family and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward to be able to proceed with the deal.
There is no doubt it will be a major commercial plus but once the internal support had been achieved, United were able to use Ferguson to build on an already solid relationship with Jorge Mendes, who United have been in touch with all summer.
— Bruno Fernandes (@B_Fernandes8) August 27, 2021
By the time Solskjaer spoke to the media, Juventus coach Max Allegri had already told the world Ronaldo was leaving the club. The deal, in effect, was sealed.
As is his way, Solskjaer did not want to give anything away until it was absolutely watertight. Three times he swerved questions about Ronaldo before the man from the Telegraph had one final go.
Why, he asked, if one of the greatest players in the world was available, would Manchester United not at least try to sign him?
Solskjaer peered into the camera and gave just enough away for those who already had an inkling for what was happening – and for some that was on Thursday – to be certain it would come true, even if the rest of the world did not grasp its true significance.
“I didn’t think Cristiano would leave Juventus,” said Solskjaer. “There has been speculation.
“We have always had a good communication. I know Bruno has been talking to him as well. He knows what we feel about him. If he was ever going to move away from Juventus, he knows we are here.”
By that point, a formal offer of €15m, with an additional €8m in add-ons, was being presented to Juventus. Just over three hours later, United confirmed an agreement to re-sign Ronaldo had been reached. On Tuesday morning – Transfer Deadline Day – United announced the deal was done.