Date:Thursday June 11 2009
Cristiano Ronaldo is off to Real Madrid for a world record fee. As I promised I'll remember only the good times about him - so here is a collection of the very best moments.
1. His debut
Skinny boy, ridiculous haircut - and mind-boggling skill. He mesmerised Old Trafford that day against Bolton, coming on as a substitute, bamboozling defenders and winning a penalty. We could see he was a star in the making even though we had to wait a long time before he realized his full potential.
2. The Highbury brace
The first indication of where Ronaldo would end up: he was a ruthless goalscorer that day, revelling in the mobility and fluidity of United's attack. We won 4-2, Ronaldo scored twice and it was clear that his improvement continues. His first goal was especially clinically taken and though he made it look easy, that was actually a very difficult angle - but he got it perfectly right.
3. The 2005 FA Cup final
It might seem strange to include this game; after all, we lost it. But after harping on for weeks about their superior footballing ability and how we could only kick them off the park, Arsenal found that they couldn't cope with United's vigour and invention. We battered them that day, Rooney and Ronaldo reduced Cole and Lauren to dazed spectators, running rings around them. Fortune was on the Gooners' side that day but it was clear that they were on the downward trajectory while United will only get stronger with Ronaldo and Rooney.
4. The destruction of Fulham
After a disappointing 2005/06 campaign Ronaldo exploded onto the stage in 2006 after a summer of flirting with Real Madrid and enduring the hate of the nation for his part in Rooney's World Cup sending off. But he came back stronger and on this hot August day he was irresistible. Linking up with Rooney in a telephatic fashion the pair of them embarassed Fulham and set United on the way to their first league title in four years.
5. The solo goal at Craven Cottage
One of his most important goals for United. We were shocked by Fulham's creativity and liveliness that day and were fortunate to be level as we were approaching full time. Ronaldo, however, decided that he wanted that league title: he picked up the ball at the halfway line, left a host of Fulham players trailing in his wake before delivering an emphatic finish into the far corner. Brilliant.
6. The free-kick against Portsmouth
His best free-kick, ever. It almost destroyed the top corner, leaving David James totally helpless. The ball had an unreal trajectory, it is simply impossible to hit it with such power AND accuracy at the same time. Yet he managed it somehow. Magnificent.
7. The goal at Roma
Oh yes, his bravest, most impressive goal. United weren't great in the first 40 minutes of this Champions League quarter-final, away from home, but it all changed then: Rooney's quick turn and Scholes' neat cross made the chance but it would have come to nothing without Ronaldo's courage: he launched himself in between two defenders, rising above them at the same time and he headed the ball home with tremendous power, injuring himself in the process. It was more impressive, for me, than his role in the 7-1 demolition a year before.
8. His goal in Moscow
It could have been one of his worst nights but for John Terry. However, it should not be forgotten that throughout the first half Ronaldo tormented Essien beyond dignity and his towering header which gave United the lead was sensational. Only Cech's brilliant save from Tevez prevented him from providing an assist as well...
9. The Porto stunner
Well, we haven't forgotten this, have we? United needed an early goal and Ronaldo took matters into his own hands: he unleashed an improbably 40-yard rocket which ended up in the top corner to the bemusement of Porto keeper Helton who clearly thought that such things simply could not happen... One of his greatest goals and a very important one as well.
10. The performance at Emirates
Arguably his best display against any of England's top four. He was unstoppable in this year's Champions League semi-final second leg, setting up the first goal for Park then unleashing another rocket of a free-kick which shocked a somewhat complacent Almunia. And then there was that third goal - he sprinted 70 yards after releasing Park with a deft backheel, only to produce a calm and assured finish at the other end. The Arsenal defence simply could not cope with him that day.
Sadly, this is the last one - but possibly the greatest performance in a single game. This list is nowhere near full - I omitted his hat-trick against Newcastle, his winning free-kick against Blackburn, his role in the comeback against Spurs, his winner against Lyon etc. - and highly subjective but I think it shows how much we lose with his departure...
Date:Thursday June 11 2009
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