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Viva Ronaldo

Champions Journal was in attendance when the Manchester United icon made his Champions League return to Old Trafford in that familiar red shirt. Come and enjoy the view from the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand…

WORDS Dan Poole

ll quiet on the concourse. Bar staff, who will be handing out meat pies to the multitudes when kick-off draws closer, currently outnumber fans. Those supporters who are in the stadium are mostly gathered around in twos and threes, coffee or otherwise in hand, talking in low tones. Anticipating.

Suddenly conversations cease and eyes dart to the nearest TV screen. Tinny commentary has become the dominant sound. And the accompanying pictures on screen? Today’s prodigal son when he was yesterday’s hero. A star being born with a starball at his feet. It’s hard to avert your gaze. It’s hard not to smile.

Most United followers are still outside Old Trafford. The buzz is more palpable out here, with cries in support of the returning hero filling late September blue skies. Shirts with the number seven and that name on the back are ubiquitous; some newly minted, plenty more dusted down. Occasionally, what sounds like an incongruous kazoo can be heard striking up a favourite tune around these parts, each time drowned out by an enthusiastic chorus of Red Devils…

Viva Ronaldo, Viva Ronaldooooo, running down the wing, hear United sing, Viva Ronaldooooo…

As well as echoing down Sir Matt Busby Way, it’s a chant that echoes back 18 years: it was 2003/04 when Cristiano Ronaldo played his first season with Manchester United in the Champions League. Tonight he’s making his second home ‘debut’ for the club in this competition. The original one was a group stage game against Rangers on 4 November 2003, and he’s the only member of the starting XI that night who’s still playing. The rest – including the likes of Tim Howard, the Neville brothers, Roy Keane and Rio Ferdinand – have long since retired.

Sir Alex Ferguson played 4-4-2, with Ronaldo on the right wing. Among the opposition ranks were United old boy Henning Berg, cult hero Michael Mols and current Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta. But Alex McLeish’s side were no match for United, succumbing to an early (and superb) Diego Forlán volley and two Ruud van Nistelrooy goals as they lost 3-0. It was a Ronaldo cross that ultimately led to the Dutchman’s first – and you can guess the identity of the player who was fouled for the free-kick that resulted in his second.

Making his Champions League home debut against Rangers in 2003 (above); back for more in 2021 (right)

Dig up the highlights of that 2003 game and for both of Van Nistelrooy’s goals you’ll hear what might, to the untrained ear, sound like booing from the home crowd. They’re actually letting loose celebratory cries of “Ruuuuud”, of course. Fast-forward to 2021 and there’s similar scope for confusion – but this time the roar is “Siuuuuu”.

The first time it booms around the stadium, it greets the Portuguese scoring a goal – in the warm-up. In fairness the pre-match intensity goes both ways: after duffing his previous effort, Ronaldo reacts like he’s just missed a chance to win the Champions League final in the last minute of extra time. He practises his well-known free-kick routine with similar dedication, right through to the puffed-up chest and puffed-out cheeks.

As the players head back down the tunnel to the dressing room, the fan in the next seat mentions that the last time he saw Ronaldo live at Old Trafford was in 2009, when United played Aston Villa in the Premier League. Ronaldo scored two goals that day, in what would prove to be one of his final games for the club before his €94m move to Real Madrid.

The clock ticks around to kick-off. Ronaldo is the last player to re-enter the field of play and immediately there are two camera operators on him, capturing his customary leaps into the air, eyes focused straight ahead. As the teams near the halfway line, Ronaldo carefully skirts the starball flag in the centre circle and applauds the fans in the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand, before taking his place for the anthem. When the line-ups are announced, the biggest cheer is saved for the five-time Champions League winner. And there’s yet more “Viva Ronaldoooo”, raining down from all sides of the ground.

What comes next is a tepid first-half display from Ronaldo and the rest of the outfield players. United go in at the break at 0-0 but could be looking at worse were in not for the exploits of David de Gea in goal.

Eight minutes into the second half, a goal finally arrives – though for the wrong team as far as the vast majority are concerned. A small pocket of yellow-shirted fans celebrate up in the gods of the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand as everyone’s thoughts turn to the Europa League final a few months prior. Are Villarreal on course for another triumph?

Shirt’s off, flung skyward. Arms outstretched, eyes bulging, torso covered by joyous team-mates

On the hour mark, two Portuguese speakers restore parity – but it’s Alex Telles with a sweetly struck first-time volley from a Bruno Fernandes free-kick that does the trick. In truth, though perhaps no one wants to admit it, Ronaldo has had little impact on the game thus far.

Ninety minutes gone, scoreboard unchanged. The crowd are subdued, all except for one fan in the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand, who we’ll call Shouty Man. He starts his vehement protestations from a seated position, berating United for what he perceives to be a lack of cutting edge (or words to that effect). Shouty Man’s complaints grow in number and volume as he gets up from his seat, pushing past the other startled occupiers of his row on his way to the aisle. He raises his arms to the heavens before imploring the very steps he’s climbing up to give him some answers. Nothing is forthcoming. Shouty Man exits.

Five minutes of stoppage time are announced, followed by a thunderstorm of applause and encouragement. Followed by another minute going by. Two. Three. Four.

Five. The 95th minute. Manchester United’s latest ever goal in the Champions League prior to tonight was stabbed in by their current manager in the 93rd minute, 1999 final. But look, here’s Fred crossing from the left wing. Ronaldo gets his head on it, cushions it down to Jesse Lingard. Lingard gets his toe to it, back to Ronaldo. Ronaldo, tight angle, right foot…

There’s no “Siu” celebration. Nothing so choreographed. His shirt’s off instead, flung skyward. Arms outstretched, eyes bulging, torso soon covered by joyous team-mates. The man breaking the record for the most ever Champions League appearances simultaneously breaks open the Old Trafford floodgates. It’s like he’s never been away.

“That’s why we brought him back,” says that fan in the next seat. And guess who else is back, dancing in the aisle, screaming with joy, arms raised to the heavens? Yeah, viva you too, Shouty Man.

ll quiet on the concourse. Bar staff, who will be handing out meat pies to the multitudes when kick-off draws closer, currently outnumber fans. Those supporters who are in the stadium are mostly gathered around in twos and threes, coffee or otherwise in hand, talking in low tones. Anticipating.

Suddenly conversations cease and eyes dart to the nearest TV screen. Tinny commentary has become the dominant sound. And the accompanying pictures on screen? Today’s prodigal son when he was yesterday’s hero. A star being born with a starball at his feet. It’s hard to avert your gaze. It’s hard not to smile.

Most United followers are still outside Old Trafford. The buzz is more palpable out here, with cries in support of the returning hero filling late September blue skies. Shirts with the number seven and that name on the back are ubiquitous; some newly minted, plenty more dusted down. Occasionally, what sounds like an incongruous kazoo can be heard striking up a favourite tune around these parts, each time drowned out by an enthusiastic chorus of Red Devils…

Viva Ronaldo, Viva Ronaldooooo, running down the wing, hear United sing, Viva Ronaldooooo…

As well as echoing down Sir Matt Busby Way, it’s a chant that echoes back 18 years: it was 2003/04 when Cristiano Ronaldo played his first season with Manchester United in the Champions League. Tonight he’s making his second home ‘debut’ for the club in this competition. The original one was a group stage game against Rangers on 4 November 2003, and he’s the only member of the starting XI that night who’s still playing. The rest – including the likes of Tim Howard, the Neville brothers, Roy Keane and Rio Ferdinand – have long since retired.

Sir Alex Ferguson played 4-4-2, with Ronaldo on the right wing. Among the opposition ranks were United old boy Henning Berg, cult hero Michael Mols and current Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta. But Alex McLeish’s side were no match for United, succumbing to an early (and superb) Diego Forlán volley and two Ruud van Nistelrooy goals as they lost 3-0. It was a Ronaldo cross that ultimately led to the Dutchman’s first – and you can guess the identity of the player who was fouled for the free-kick that resulted in his second.

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Making his Champions League home debut against Rangers in 2003 (above); back for more in 2021 (right)

Dig up the highlights of that 2003 game and for both of Van Nistelrooy’s goals you’ll hear what might, to the untrained ear, sound like booing from the home crowd. They’re actually letting loose celebratory cries of “Ruuuuud”, of course. Fast-forward to 2021 and there’s similar scope for confusion – but this time the roar is “Siuuuuu”.

The first time it booms around the stadium, it greets the Portuguese scoring a goal – in the warm-up. In fairness the pre-match intensity goes both ways: after duffing his previous effort, Ronaldo reacts like he’s just missed a chance to win the Champions League final in the last minute of extra time. He practises his well-known free-kick routine with similar dedication, right through to the puffed-up chest and puffed-out cheeks.

As the players head back down the tunnel to the dressing room, the fan in the next seat mentions that the last time he saw Ronaldo live at Old Trafford was in 2009, when United played Aston Villa in the Premier League. Ronaldo scored two goals that day, in what would prove to be one of his final games for the club before his €94m move to Real Madrid.

The clock ticks around to kick-off. Ronaldo is the last player to re-enter the field of play and immediately there are two camera operators on him, capturing his customary leaps into the air, eyes focused straight ahead. As the teams near the halfway line, Ronaldo carefully skirts the starball flag in the centre circle and applauds the fans in the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand, before taking his place for the anthem. When the line-ups are announced, the biggest cheer is saved for the five-time Champions League winner. And there’s yet more “Viva Ronaldoooo”, raining down from all sides of the ground.

What comes next is a tepid first-half display from Ronaldo and the rest of the outfield players. United go in at the break at 0-0 but could be looking at worse were in not for the exploits of David de Gea in goal.

Eight minutes into the second half, a goal finally arrives – though for the wrong team as far as the vast majority are concerned. A small pocket of yellow-shirted fans celebrate up in the gods of the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand as everyone’s thoughts turn to the Europa League final a few months prior. Are Villarreal on course for another triumph?

Shirt’s off, flung skyward. Arms outstretched, eyes bulging, torso covered by joyous team-mates

On the hour mark, two Portuguese speakers restore parity – but it’s Alex Telles with a sweetly struck first-time volley from a Bruno Fernandes free-kick that does the trick. In truth, though perhaps no one wants to admit it, Ronaldo has had little impact on the game thus far.

Ninety minutes gone, scoreboard unchanged. The crowd are subdued, all except for one fan in the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand, who we’ll call Shouty Man. He starts his vehement protestations from a seated position, berating United for what he perceives to be a lack of cutting edge (or words to that effect). Shouty Man’s complaints grow in number and volume as he gets up from his seat, pushing past the other startled occupiers of his row on his way to the aisle. He raises his arms to the heavens before imploring the very steps he’s climbing up to give him some answers. Nothing is forthcoming. Shouty Man exits.

Five minutes of stoppage time are announced, followed by a thunderstorm of applause and encouragement. Followed by another minute going by. Two. Three. Four.

Five. The 95th minute. Manchester United’s latest ever goal in the Champions League prior to tonight was stabbed in by their current manager in the 93rd minute, 1999 final. But look, here’s Fred crossing from the left wing. Ronaldo gets his head on it, cushions it down to Jesse Lingard. Lingard gets his toe to it, back to Ronaldo. Ronaldo, tight angle, right foot…

There’s no “Siu” celebration. Nothing so choreographed. His shirt’s off instead, flung skyward. Arms outstretched, eyes bulging, torso soon covered by joyous team-mates. The man breaking the record for the most ever Champions League appearances simultaneously breaks open the Old Trafford floodgates. It’s like he’s never been away.

“That’s why we brought him back,” says that fan in the next seat. And guess who else is back, dancing in the aisle, screaming with joy, arms raised to the heavens? Yeah, viva you too, Shouty Man.

ll quiet on the concourse. Bar staff, who will be handing out meat pies to the multitudes when kick-off draws closer, currently outnumber fans. Those supporters who are in the stadium are mostly gathered around in twos and threes, coffee or otherwise in hand, talking in low tones. Anticipating.

Suddenly conversations cease and eyes dart to the nearest TV screen. Tinny commentary has become the dominant sound. And the accompanying pictures on screen? Today’s prodigal son when he was yesterday’s hero. A star being born with a starball at his feet. It’s hard to avert your gaze. It’s hard not to smile.

Most United followers are still outside Old Trafford. The buzz is more palpable out here, with cries in support of the returning hero filling late September blue skies. Shirts with the number seven and that name on the back are ubiquitous; some newly minted, plenty more dusted down. Occasionally, what sounds like an incongruous kazoo can be heard striking up a favourite tune around these parts, each time drowned out by an enthusiastic chorus of Red Devils…

Viva Ronaldo, Viva Ronaldooooo, running down the wing, hear United sing, Viva Ronaldooooo…

As well as echoing down Sir Matt Busby Way, it’s a chant that echoes back 18 years: it was 2003/04 when Cristiano Ronaldo played his first season with Manchester United in the Champions League. Tonight he’s making his second home ‘debut’ for the club in this competition. The original one was a group stage game against Rangers on 4 November 2003, and he’s the only member of the starting XI that night who’s still playing. The rest – including the likes of Tim Howard, the Neville brothers, Roy Keane and Rio Ferdinand – have long since retired.

Sir Alex Ferguson played 4-4-2, with Ronaldo on the right wing. Among the opposition ranks were United old boy Henning Berg, cult hero Michael Mols and current Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta. But Alex McLeish’s side were no match for United, succumbing to an early (and superb) Diego Forlán volley and two Ruud van Nistelrooy goals as they lost 3-0. It was a Ronaldo cross that ultimately led to the Dutchman’s first – and you can guess the identity of the player who was fouled for the free-kick that resulted in his second.

Making his Champions League home debut against Rangers in 2003 (above); back for more in 2021 (right)

Dig up the highlights of that 2003 game and for both of Van Nistelrooy’s goals you’ll hear what might, to the untrained ear, sound like booing from the home crowd. They’re actually letting loose celebratory cries of “Ruuuuud”, of course. Fast-forward to 2021 and there’s similar scope for confusion – but this time the roar is “Siuuuuu”.

The first time it booms around the stadium, it greets the Portuguese scoring a goal – in the warm-up. In fairness the pre-match intensity goes both ways: after duffing his previous effort, Ronaldo reacts like he’s just missed a chance to win the Champions League final in the last minute of extra time. He practises his well-known free-kick routine with similar dedication, right through to the puffed-up chest and puffed-out cheeks.

As the players head back down the tunnel to the dressing room, the fan in the next seat mentions that the last time he saw Ronaldo live at Old Trafford was in 2009, when United played Aston Villa in the Premier League. Ronaldo scored two goals that day, in what would prove to be one of his final games for the club before his €94m move to Real Madrid.

The clock ticks around to kick-off. Ronaldo is the last player to re-enter the field of play and immediately there are two camera operators on him, capturing his customary leaps into the air, eyes focused straight ahead. As the teams near the halfway line, Ronaldo carefully skirts the starball flag in the centre circle and applauds the fans in the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand, before taking his place for the anthem. When the line-ups are announced, the biggest cheer is saved for the five-time Champions League winner. And there’s yet more “Viva Ronaldoooo”, raining down from all sides of the ground.

What comes next is a tepid first-half display from Ronaldo and the rest of the outfield players. United go in at the break at 0-0 but could be looking at worse were in not for the exploits of David de Gea in goal.

Eight minutes into the second half, a goal finally arrives – though for the wrong team as far as the vast majority are concerned. A small pocket of yellow-shirted fans celebrate up in the gods of the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand as everyone’s thoughts turn to the Europa League final a few months prior. Are Villarreal on course for another triumph?

Shirt’s off, flung skyward. Arms outstretched, eyes bulging, torso covered by joyous team-mates

On the hour mark, two Portuguese speakers restore parity – but it’s Alex Telles with a sweetly struck first-time volley from a Bruno Fernandes free-kick that does the trick. In truth, though perhaps no one wants to admit it, Ronaldo has had little impact on the game thus far.

Ninety minutes gone, scoreboard unchanged. The crowd are subdued, all except for one fan in the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand, who we’ll call Shouty Man. He starts his vehement protestations from a seated position, berating United for what he perceives to be a lack of cutting edge (or words to that effect). Shouty Man’s complaints grow in number and volume as he gets up from his seat, pushing past the other startled occupiers of his row on his way to the aisle. He raises his arms to the heavens before imploring the very steps he’s climbing up to give him some answers. Nothing is forthcoming. Shouty Man exits.

Five minutes of stoppage time are announced, followed by a thunderstorm of applause and encouragement. Followed by another minute going by. Two. Three. Four.

Five. The 95th minute. Manchester United’s latest ever goal in the Champions League prior to tonight was stabbed in by their current manager in the 93rd minute, 1999 final. But look, here’s Fred crossing from the left wing. Ronaldo gets his head on it, cushions it down to Jesse Lingard. Lingard gets his toe to it, back to Ronaldo. Ronaldo, tight angle, right foot…

There’s no “Siu” celebration. Nothing so choreographed. His shirt’s off instead, flung skyward. Arms outstretched, eyes bulging, torso soon covered by joyous team-mates. The man breaking the record for the most ever Champions League appearances simultaneously breaks open the Old Trafford floodgates. It’s like he’s never been away.

“That’s why we brought him back,” says that fan in the next seat. And guess who else is back, dancing in the aisle, screaming with joy, arms raised to the heavens? Yeah, viva you too, Shouty Man.

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