Get Real! Ronaldo's worth every penny
Cristiano Ronaldo came to London just before Christmas.
He was a guest at a tennis tournament, the ATP World Tour final between Roger Federer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the O2 Arena. It was a major event and football was well represented.
Gareth Bale, Robert Pires, Chris Smalling and Andrey Arshavin were all in attendance. Federer won, but by the time Ronaldo left town the place was buzzing with a big sports story of a different kind.
Watching on: Cristiano Ronaldo (centre) at the ATP World Tour finals
Earlier that morning, it was claimed, Ronaldo was seen at Les Ambassadeurs, a private club and casino near Hyde Park. He was with his agent, Jorge Mendes, and most intriguingly David Gill, the chief executive of Manchester United. At no stage has this meeting been confirmed by any of the parties, but the talk will not subside, either. Of course, there are some fevered imaginations in football; in the press box, too.
Equally, Ronaldo, Mendes and Gill might have come together entirely by chance. Les Ambassadeurs is a common haunt for football people. All three men are acquainted and are known there. If Gill found Mendes and Ronaldo having coffee, why wouldn't he join them Newspapers often get tips about supposed clandestine discussions that turn out to be nothing more sinister than old friends bumping into each other on familiar territory.
The widely reported talks between Rio Ferdinand and Peter Kenyon, then chief executive of Chelsea, in 2005 are a case in point. Coincidence, said those around the table. Aha, caught you, chided the rest of the world. Yet, almost seven years on, has Ferdinand ever come close to being a Chelsea player
Indeed, if Gill was conducting top-secret business, he would hardly choose a venue crawling with football people and the odd newspaper man. He would have more chance of keeping this appointment quiet had Ronaldo waited for him with a red carnation under the giant clock at Waterloo during rush hour.
Back in the day: Ronaldo has been missed since he left Manchester United
So, having now ridiculed Ronaldo's rendezvous with a senior Old Trafford executive as at worst fictitious and quite possibly accidental, only one question remains. Suppose there is something in it Oh go on, dream.
Suppose Manchester United genuinely have a chance of enticing him back Would that not be the greatest coup Wouldn't that throw this idea of Manchester City dominating the fading force that is United for a loop
Speculation that Ronaldo is worth pursuing will increase if he disappoints again in Wednesday's Copa del Rey quarter-final first leg with Barcelona. His habit of underwhelming in El Clasico encounters is behind much discontent at the Bernabeu. Indeed, Ronaldo is still suffering a hangover from a 3-1 home defeat by the Catalan club on December 10.
In Madrid's first game back after the winter break, at home to Granada, contemptuous of the scorn he had received from his own fans throughout the game, Ronaldo did not celebrate after scoring Madrid's fifth. This went down about as well as a Catalan flag with the locals. Even club legend and honorary president Alfredo di Stefano condemned him.
On Wednesday, if Lionel Messi reigns supreme and Ronaldo is anonymous again, the derision will grow even louder. The return leg is seven days later, by which time the hint of an opportunity for Manchester United might be apparent.
One up: Barcelona's Lionel Messi (right) tends to get the better of Ronaldo
Not right now, obviously. Five points clear of Barcelona in La Liga and still involved in the Champions League, there is no chance of Real Madrid releasing Ronaldo in the short term. At the end of the season, however, who knows No club president relying on the grass roots supporters for re-election, as Florentino Perez does, will go too aggressively against the will of the many.
Were Ronaldo's open shows of defiance to continue as the crowd take against him, the crisis could quickly escalate. Inevitably, Ronaldo would become disillusioned – this is his dream move, after all, so any rejection will be doubly hurtful – and will Jose Mourinho, or his successor, have the patience to tease the talent out of him in such circumstances
A coach might even begin to share the reservations about Ronaldo's inferiority complex, head-to-head with Barcelona and Messi; he might feel a star who cannot take the fight directly to Madrid's most challenging opponent isn't much of an asset at all. If Barcelona ended up catching Madrid from a distance this season, it would surely aid United's cause.
Of course, it would be a mistake for Madrid to lose Ronaldo, but the club have erred before. Not until Claude Makelele was sold to Chelsea did Perez appreciate he was the glue holding the team together. Maybe, like some of Manchester United's more deluded followers at the time of Ronaldo's departure, Madrid's powerbrokers will underestimate the sheer weight of his goal contribution (he has 26 this season to go with 53 last year and 33 in his first campaign).
Don't know what you've got till it's gone: Claude Makelele at Madrid (centre)
He is La Liga's top scorer with the most shots on goal and is in the top five for goal assists. United must surely hope Madrid are blind to this magnificent contribution. Only a fool still believes Ronaldo has not been missed at Old Trafford.
Reduced to lauding the return of Paul Scholes, the result of a much discussed midfield crisis, United stalwarts must now appreciate the way Ronaldo's individual excellence masked cracks. Wayne Rooney never looked unhappy when Ronaldo was on the pitch because he made United formidable. Without Ronaldo, United have become increasingly reliant on Rooney, and the strain is beginning to show. So what if Ronaldo was open to a return What would he be worth to United
How about offering a fair exchange, no robbery deal, and give Madrid back the 80million that they paid Sounds excessive Well, Fernando Torres cost Chelsea 50m and Ronaldo is certainly worth more than that. Then factor in multiple league title wins – every chance with Rooney and Ronaldo together again – and the stealing of City's thunder. Consider also that 80m is only what United received for Ronaldo, and would not represent additional outlay as he has never been supplanted with an equivalent marquee name.
Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia are good players, but neither can be considered Ronaldo's replacements. Messi aside, who could make that claim So here's hoping. Here's hoping that Gill, Mendes and Ronaldo did team up in Les Ambassadeurs that day, and it wasn't just coincidence, and there was something in it and, when the last coffee cup was drained, both sides agreed they really must do this again, perhaps somewhere more private next time. Because we miss him. English football misses him, and United certainly miss him.
You're good, but you're no Ronaldo: Ashley Young signed for United
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If the 80,000 at the Bernabeu do not get the beauty of this player, we do, and he should know that. He's worth it, he really is. He's worth the 80m, plus the chief executive's 1,000 membership of Les Ambassadeurs. Indeed, that could be the best cheque the Glazers ever wrote.
The appealing escape clause in Demba Ba's contract should be weighed against the fact that 2012 and 2013 are back-to-back years for the Africa Cup of Nations, so he will miss a significant chunk of next season, too. This could also explain Chelsea's seemingly bizarre decision to play hardball with Didier Drogba over his contract.
Witner in Qatar's no joke, Hugh
There was a look of sheer horror on the face of Hugh Morris, managing director of England cricket, when the ramifications of switching the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to winter were explained to him. Richard Scudamore, chief executive of the Premier League, predicts six years of disruption to football's calendar if this happens, with the game needing to stagger the timing of the season for three years before, and three years after.
Each alteration would in some way invade cricket's territory, with the football season either ending later, in June, or starting in July. Scudamore's prediction is that the Qatar shift could never happen, because traditional summer sports around the world would lobby governments to intervene.
How Morris reacted suggests this hunch is right. He instantly said cricket would have to do all it could to protect its place in the calendar. One added complication is that Test fixtures are planned eight years in advance so, unless football made its intentions clear before 2014, Test slots would already be allocated.
Then there is the Cricket World Cup, due to be held in England in 2019, the first summer Scudamore predicts will be affected. Michel Platini is an advocate of making Qatar a winter tournament – having first voted to play it in 115 degree heat – and is likely to be the next FIFA president. This is the issue that could ruin him, however, if he contrives to make enemies of football clubs, governments and the rest of the sporting world.
Murray is beyond criticism
Day one at the Australian Open, five British entrants, five British exits, not a single set won. How anybody says a negative word against Andy Murray, I really do not know. Beyond him lies wilderness
And while we're at it
Ravel Morrison is clearly a huge talent, but a club such as Newcastle United, who have already had a 1million bid for him rejected, should be very careful about buying trouble, however attractively packaged.
Trouble Newcastle would hardly be the best place for Ravel Morrison (centre)
Sir Alex Ferguson is exasperated by Morrison's behaviour, and it is said he skips training frequently. Full marks for optimism, but what makes Newcastle manager Alan Pardew believe he can make any greater impression on the work ethic of a young man The last thing he needs is a player who thinks he is doing Newcastle a favour by turning up – and, if he acts that way at Manchester United, it would hardly be surprising behaviour repeated on Tyneside.
Pardew has assembled a team built on unity, collective strength, skill and graft: Morrison, 18, would appear to tick just one of those boxes. He has talent, but if the potential for distraction exists in Manchester, what price Newcastle's goldfish bowl with its raucous nightlife It has claimed more stable men than Morrison, who has as yet proved nothing beyond the capacity to exasperate.
Everyone wants a trophy
'Do they like Arsenal, or do they just like Arsenal with trophies' Dennis Bergkamp once asked of the famously critical fans. Thierry Henry will claim that as his point, too. Yet Bergkamp was 11 years at the club, arrived in 1995 and never left. Henry fled to Barcelona at the age of 29, two years after Arsene Wenger's team won their last competition, the 2005 FA Cup. It turned out he didn't like Arsenal without trophies, either. Who does
Pay the price, Chris
Christopher Samba was a reserve at Hertha Berlin, thrown on late and out of position as an emergency striker to chase a game, often suffering racial abuse from his own fans. Blackburn Rovers rescued him from that little circle of hell. Mark Hughes and Mark Bowen looked at him on trial, liked what they saw, and paid a cut-price 400,000. Samba has every reason to be thankful.
Heading for the exit Christopher Samba wants to leave Blackburn Rovers
He may feel he has repaid Blackburn with his performances over four years and has now asked for a transfer, with interest from Queens Park Rangers and Tottenham well known. Steve Kean, the Blackburn manager, has taken a generous view of Samba's failure to play against Fulham on Saturday, citing illness. Maybe he would have felt differently had they lost.
Clean slate or not , Blackburn's asking price for Samba should be 30million. That is what it would cost if they ended up in the Championship next season, which they almost certainly will if Kean is not allowed to keep his best players.
O'Neill's a fast starter
Many have asked how Martin O'Neill makes such a dramatic impact at his new clubs. What is his secret Well, here is one. From his discussions with West Ham United last season it became very plain that O'Neill is quite particular about when he starts.
Instant hit: Martin O'Neill (right) has made an excellent start at Sunderland
O'Neill watched his first Sunderland game, which was lost away at Wolverhampton Wanderers, but was in place the following weekend todefeat Blackburn Rovers – who had won a single away game in a year – and his momentum built from there.
Compare that with Mark Hughes, travelling to Newcastle for his opening game as Queens Park Rangers manager, which ended in defeat. Rangers' next game is at home to Wigan Athletic. Maybe Hughes now wishes he had O'Neill's uncanny sense of timing.
Read all about it… and then watch it again
One of the small pleasures of going away from home at this time of year is becoming blissfully oblivious to the Sky Sports News transfer window frenzy. On-the-hour updates, complete with a flash computer screen to tell you, in the main, what was in the sports pages that morning. On the day I left for Dubai, Darron Gibson was about to depart Manchester United for Everton according to 'Sky sources'; or as we used to call him, the paper boy.
Mancini had a point
How strange that such a fuss should again be made over Roberto Mancini's brandishing of an imaginary card on the touchline on Monday night, when we would be better off wondering how Maynor Figueroa, of Wigan Athletic, stayed on the field having so plainly denied Manchester City a goalscoring opportunity.
Come on ref! Roberto Mancini (right) waved a red card on Monday night
There are too many caveats placed in the way of decision-making these days. We should return to simple judgment calls, right and wrong. Anyone who knows football understands that Sergio Aguero, although 45 yards from goal, would have had a clear run at goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi and a reasonable scoring opportunity.
That should have been enough to merit a red card. Figueroa knew what was at stake; he merely made a calculated guess that football's small print would find a way of preventing justice being done, and he was right.