London – Sir Alex Ferguson has called him “unbuyable” and the Manchester United manager must have watched Cristiano Ronaldo destroy Barcelona in the Nou Camp on Tuesday night with a mixture of admiration and trepidation.
Ferguson knows only too well he must find a way to stop the Real Madrid forward at Old Trafford next week if his team are to progress to the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
But, as United prepare for Ronaldo’s first return since an £80million move to Madrid almost four years ago, the intriguing prospect of a more permanent return for the Portugal forward is on the agenda.
Many might think it implausible. Ferguson says he doubts it can happen, although he made similar noises about Robin van Persie.
But there is growing belief around the club that a deal for Ronaldo is not as fanciful as it sounds. United, Daily Mail understands, have already launched what amounts to a feasibility study to see if they could finance the biggest player purchase in their history – one Ferguson estimates would run into “hundreds of millions”.
After watching Ronaldo score twice against Barca on Tuesday to take his total for Madrid to 185 goals in 183 games, the United boss knows he is one of the few players who would be worth it.
Ferguson left the door open to a return when asked about Ronaldo in December, saying: “You never know. He may want to go to another club at some point and I’d hope he would want to come here.
“I’d love to see that but it’s fanciful thinking really. First of all, there’s how much it would take to get him from Real and, secondly, I don’t think there’s any chance they would want to sell him.’
If – and it remains a significant if – Ronaldo leaves the Bernabeu before his contract runs out in 2015, United believe it would come down to a straight choice between them and Paris Saint-Germain and he would choose Old Trafford.
Manchester City cannot be discounted but United have first option to buy under the terms of his transfer to Madrid in 2009 and most of that world record fee remains unspent. They could expect to pay around £60m to buy Ronaldo back because, although he has taken his game to new heights in Spain, he is now 28 and has just over two years left on his contract in Madrid.
His wages would take that well beyond the £100m mark but United are fully aware of the commercial value of a player who was transformed from a raw teenage talent into World Player of the Year during his six years in Manchester.
Incoming Old Trafford chief Ed Woodward is said to favour a high-impact signing that would have commercial benefits around the world, and United could even look to their expanding portfolio of global sponsors to help fund the deal.
The Premier League leaders also know they have players who interest Madrid and could be used as makeweights. David de Gea, in particular, is still highly valued in Spain while Nani and Javier Hernandez would make a player-plus-cash deal more affordable.
United’s plans are still in their early stages but Real are aware of the interest from Old Trafford. Any deal, of course, would depend on Ronaldo ending his love affair with Madrid and that remains unclear.
He has spoken of feeling unloved in Spain and Real’s refusal to match his contract demands while Lionel Messi has signed lucrative terms at Barcelona has not helped.
Ronaldo says he will see out his deal but it is unlikely Madrid president Florentino Perez will allow that to happen. Talks are expected at the end of the season, with Perez under pressure because of the presidential elections in June.
However, with no stand-out candidate opposing him, he has more room for manoeuvre than previously. Madrid yesterday opened talks with Napoli over Edinson Cavani and, if Perez sanctions a raid for Tottenham’s Gareth Bale, even Ronaldo could be dispensable.
Ferguson has said: “I think Madrid are trying hard to get him to sign a new contract and I think that’s happening.”
He might be right. But, if not, United might just have a plan. – Daily Mail