Saturday, June 13

Ize Of The World

This is first and foremost a music blog. In fact, it is entirely a music blog. Only sometimes the odd globe-shattering story will break, making for just a short yet polite intrusion...

I still don't think it's sunk in yet. Literally the whole planet has been banging on about it, but the thought that Cristiano Ronaldo will never play for my team, Manchester United, ever again seems so unreal. Even if it was always going to happen. Ever since he uttered the words, "In the future, you never know", to some Sky Sports journo merely days before the 2008 Champions League final in Moscow, I knew that my favourite footballer wouldn't be a United player forever.

See, aside from music, I think football is the greatest thing in the world. And I've followed United since the age of 5 - now 17 years ago. Though I grew up in north London, I can't stand glory-hunters as much as the next guy. I think fans should support their local side, and though I don't believe in the Almighty, something serendipity happened to me that day in that Golders Green sports shop, as my guileless eyes were drawn to the firey red of some 1991 Sharp-sponsored, Adidas-manufactured jersey.

Anyway, I digress. I've never felt an affiliation with a player quite like CR7. I couldn't give a toss about what he's like as a person, or whether he dived every other skim of the ball in his first few years in Manchester. For me, it's his battle on the field. Not Tevez-run-around-like-where's-me-pinky-type-battle, but his fighting psychology to be the absolute greatest he can be. Yes, Cantona was a legend. Keane was authoritative. And Ruud was pretty much a goal mechanism. But Ronaldo was my first real actual bona fide favourite. I enjoyed the game that bit more because he was playing.

After months of bawling over the loss of DB7, I was there when He came on as a sub against Bolton on August 16 2003. You could sense even then that there was something truly remarkable about him. I actually bought all the tabloids (something I never do) the day after so I could spread his magnificent debut all over my bedroom wall. Though it was his performance in the 2006 World Cup where he really started to flower. I, like every sane United follower, stood by him after the Wayne Rooney winking incident.

Following that came Oxford United in a pre-season friendly, which I was also at. The boos started there. And it was through his complete and utter duel against this which led to his success of recent years. He had something to bear out and the heckling only made him tougher. First in the league came Fulham, and after three years without our rightful Premiership title, so did a 4-0 lead merely 20 minutes in. Most of which was down to Ronaldo's flair.

I think he played his best football for us that season - before he scored The 42 Goals. There was this sense that he was taking us somewhere, on an expedition to achieve the greatest of things. Now we've won the league for the last three seasons, took home the Champions League, forgot to show up the next final, and won everything else bar the FA Cup in between. And for me, Ronaldo is the chief reason for that. His combat, his goals, his genius - he did what was needed when it really mattered.

What? You need proof? 06/07 - He scored more goals than any, the most vital of which came in the 87th minute away to Fulham, all but engraving our name on the trophy. 07-08 - The 42 Goals, his opener in the Champions League final, that header v Roma away. 08-09 - He came back later than most but was still our top scorer, securing our place in the Champions League final again by pushing aside FC Porto and Arsenal.

Cantona never attained all of that. Neither Charlton, Law or Best. Giggs has now, but not at Ronaldo's age.

Will his statue ever stand erect a pavement away from Sir Matt's? No, probably not.

But arrogance, decline in fan adoration and 4-year-old dreams for a Manzanares boat-house all aside - Is he the greatest Manchester United player ever? I think so.