June 11, 2009, Manchester United and Real Madrid agreed on a record-breaking price for Cristiano Ronaldo. One of the most exciting young talents during that time would move to the Spanish capital, and end his 6-year association with the then Premier League Champions and one of the bests in Europe, Manchester United.
In the previous year, when Manchester United beat Chelsea to win the UEFA Champions League in Luzhinki Stadium, Moscow, along with the Premier League; Sir Alex Ferguson said, “I genuinely believe that he knows what the best club in the world is for him, and that is Manchester United”.
The speculations of Cristiano Ronaldo leaving Old Trafford were gaining tremendous momentum. The hierarchy of Real Madrid was looking for a brand and champion to counter their arch-rivals Barcelona, who found the ideal replacement of Ronaldinho in Lionel Messi.
Real broke the bank by signing Kaka and Karim Benzema, but Perez needed someone special, who could challenge Messi and take the Los Blancos to the position, which they lost since that eventful UCL Final in 2002. In Cristiano, he saw that champion and he was not wrong.
Sir Alex won’t let his favourite student go. Cristiano agreed to one more campaign, won the Premier League for the third year running, and reached the Champions League Final again. But Lionel Messi would destroy Manchester United and overshadow CR7.
The move was back on the table.
After 8 years of Zinedine Zidane holding the world record transfer fee for a player (£45.6m, again to Los Blancos), Real Madrid went and smashed it twice in a matter of days in that summer of ‘09, firstly with the acquisition of the AC Milan star Kaká for £56m before Ronaldo was unveiled shortly after, at the time the most expensive footballer in history.
August 29, 2009: Cristiano would play his first-ever match for Real Madrid. It was against Deportivo La Coruna. Kaka, Diarra, and Karim Benzema impressed. Cristiano looked nervy, but in the course of time, nerves were calmed and momentum took over. He gave Real the lead from the penalty spot. But Derpotivo equalized. In the end, Real prevailed in a tensed match.
10 years later, Cristiano finally swapped the Bernabeu for the Allianz, having claimed a mammoth silverware haul including a brace of La Liga titles, a couple of Copa del Reys, and four additional Champions League trophies to complete an unparalleled tally in the competition.
Of his 450 goals (and who doesn’t love a nice round number), 129 (28.7%) were match-winners, 306 were scored with his deadly right foot, the ire of many a goalkeeper, with 74 scored with the other. The 6’1” forward produced 70 headers and produced 39 successful direct free-kicks.
His lowest scoring La Liga season tallied in his penultimate; still impressive at 25 but a good 23 behind what he had managed in the 2014/15 (albeit without any major trophies to show for the effort).
I watched the Real-Madrid-debut of Cristiano on that night in Bernabeu.
Frankly speaking, I did not like the hype Ronaldo generated to overshadow Ronaldo O Fenomeno. And his number 9 jersey was also not accepted by me. I thought, this Ronaldo was over-hyped and would fade soon. In the 2010-11 season, he would don the number 7 short and shift to the left-wing under Jose Mourinho.
My anger dropped and it dropped further when he showed respect towards our Ronaldo and other greats of Brazil.
As time progressed, I started to become a fan of CR7.
He was needed to script an era, which was at risk of getting devoured by Messi. Obviously, we can’t deny the greatness of Messi as a club footballer and in the early part of this decade, Messi was arguably the most dangerous footballer on this planet.
But CR7 took over – in one of the most enterprising battles among fans and critics ever took place in football world since the Pele vs Maradona debate, CR7 showed who should be called the greatest of this decade. In the Messi vs Ronaldo debate, in my opinion, CR7 has beaten Messi.
Except for the World Cup, he won it all and his greatness has not been limited to just one club.
Time flies away. New moments come and gift us joy in sports. With time, age starts to take over. The pangs and anxieties of life test us. But some memories remain for eternity and give us the chance to sit back in our moment of silence filled with that very-own-feeling – the debut match of CR7 for Los Blancos is making me feel privileged.