It has been said before that the one single things that all great sides have in common is a player in midfield, aged in his mid to late twenties. That player is at the peak of his strength. He has the experience and guile from having played professionally for several seasons, yet his fitness levels haven’t yet succumbed to the inevitable slowing that comes with ageing. Most players careers follow this gradient, though there are exceptions (Ryan Giggs maintained his freshness until into his thirties, whilst Michael Owen seemed to peak at about twenty-one years old). If Cristano Ronaldo has reached the peak of his powers, then he has done it very early indeed.
One of the things about Alex Ferguson that makes him a great manager is that he knows when the top of that hill for a player has been reached and that it will be downhill for them from there on. The sale of David Beckham to Real Madrid, the loan signing of Henrik Larsson and countless others that seemed, on one level, to defy all logic – one of the most critical skills that Ferguson possesses is the ability to assess and analyse players, and he doesn’t get it wrong that often. If an offer of £80m for Cristiano Ronaldo has been agreed and Alex Ferguson is fully behind this acceptance, the most likely scenario is that Ferguson feels as if, even at just twenty-four years old, Ronaldo has already reached the peak of his powers and that he will be too much of a pain in the backside to keep at Old Trafford.
There is, of course, an alternative theory to this. Manchester United’s profits have been wiped out by the interest payments on the loan taken out by the Glazers to buy the club in thei first place. The possibility – however slight – remains that, to an extent, United are now a selling club. The sums are mid-boggling, of course. If the rumours linking Franck Ribery to Manchester United, however, are true, then United could be swapping like for like and netting £20m into the bargain. Ribery has, according to media rumours, already ruled out a move to anywhere in England, but we should be wary of any sort of official statements like this. After all, it wasn’t that long ago since Kaka was declaring his undying love for Milan and he is a Madrista now.
In Spain, not everybody is happy with Madrid’s big spending. A sizeable proportion of even Real’s support seem to be taking the viewpoint that their club spending this amount of money with the economic climate the way it is may not be the most moral thing that the club could be doing at this point in time. Should Ronaldo go to the Bernabau, there will be no guarantee of success for them. The last generation of “Galacticos” largely flopped, and spending £80m on Ronaldo doesn’t guarantee a Champions League win for Madrid next season. Indeed, signing Ronalddo and Kaka doesn’t guarantee anything. The gulf between Real and Barcelona was underlined when Barca beat them 6-2 a couple of months ago. There seem to be insitutional weak points in the Madrid team that need to be addressed more urgently than can by managed by spending £132m on two players.
So, there are no guarantees of success or failure, and Madrid’s Florenino Perez is taking a massive gamble in spending such a vast amount of money. Manchester United, however, find themselves in a different boat. Five years ago they would have had no compunction over spending the money required to keep Carlos Tevez at Old Trafford, but the rules of their financial game have changed. They will obviously start next season as the favourites to win the Premier League and quite possibly to win the Champions League, but the fact that they are prepared to sell Cristiano Ronaldo at all does thrown up some fascinating questions about the state of the club. Either United feel that they need to cash in on such an extravagant offer, or Alex Ferguson feels that he has already seen the best of him. We’ll probably never know which of these has been behind this thinking.