The leap, swivel and landing with outstretched arms as the Old Trafford crowd roared. If anyone missed it the first time on Saturday — and it’s hard to imagine when so many eyes were transfixed on Cristiano Ronaldo — they got another chance in the second half.
This was always going to be Ronaldo’s day. Two goals, two chances to stage his trademark celebration in a 4-1 victory over Newcastle, ensured the performance matched the club hype that fans young and old embraced with their “Viva Ronaldo” chants and willingness to hand over cash for new jerseys.
Less than five months ago the fans were storming the stadium in a rage against the owners. Now the green-and-gold anti-Glazer protest scarves were hanging over the No. 7 Ronaldo shirts the megastore is struggling to match the demand for in the two weeks since he joined from Juventus.
The only “Get out of our club” chants were aimed by the Newcastle supporters at their owner, not Avram Glazer in the home directors’ seats. For Old Trafford’s second capacity crowd since the start of the pandemic 18 months ago, the “Welcome home” announcements left no doubt they were for the superstar on the field.
He left United a year after winning his first Ballon D’Or accolade in 2008. The Portugal captain returns a five-time winner, with the chiselled, lean body ensuring not just playing longevity at 36 but a status that transcends not just United but the sport.
Ronaldo even laughed at himself. Like after the early miss when he swung at the ball from a tight angle right in front of the Newcastle fans. He had to wait until the second minute of stoppage time at the end of the first half to restart the goal count left at 118 in 2009.
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Few goals will be easier, tapping into an empty net after goalkeeper Freddie Woodman fumbled Mason Greenwood. It was a goal United fans hadn’t seen in 12 years and feared would never happen, especially when he came close to signing for Manchester City when he unexpectedly came on the market in the final days of the summer transfer window.
Yet it was a goal only the crowd of around 74,000 could legally watch in Britain. The rest of the world — apart from Afghanistan, Cuba, North Korea and Turkmenistan — could view it live on television.
The peculiarity of broadcasting rules meant this game was blacked out from television and digital platforms in Britain until after the game. Yet, illicit Twitter clips of it were showing more than a million views within half an hour of it being scored.
There was a moment of unease when United’s need for a new defensive midfielder was highlighted by the failings that led to Newcastle’s Javier Manquillo being able to equalize in the second half. But Ronaldo had the lead restored in the 62nd. All the running in the buildup was from Luke Shaw before slipping the ball through for Ronaldo to effortlessly put the ball between Woodman’s legs.
And there it was again, the signature celebration finessed during his time at Real Madrid, this time in front of the Stretford End, where Ronaldo shouted “Siuuu.” The win was secure. It just needed compatriot Bruno Fernandes with a fine rising, curling shot and Jesse Lingard’s stoppage-time strike to add to the party atmosphere.
Tougher assignments will come for Ronaldo and United. The celebrations on Saturday were around Ronaldo’s return. But the homecoming will be deemed a success only if he brings the Premier League trophy back to United for the first time since the final days of Alex Ferguson’s reign in 2013.
Ferguson, sitting in the directors’ box, certainly looked impressed with the return of the forward he signed as a teenager in 2003 and is back to restore luster to a club that’s seen City usurp United for silverware if not status.