“I expected to score one goal, but not two,” said football legend Cristiano Ronaldo after his triumphant return to Manchester United ended with a 4-1 thrashing of Newcastle. The only surprise really was that CR7 didn’t net a hat-trick; one curled in by his right peg, the second smashed home off the left, with the crowning of the king confirmed by a diving header rocketing into a top corner to the rapturous adoration of the Old Trafford faithful. In his interview soon after the final whistle, Ronaldo did admit to being “super nervous” before the match; then he spoke about his team winning the league and the Champions League. But that is the man and that is his way. Ronaldo is a serial winner, his complete list of honours would take up this entire column, but mentioning the major trophies alone, there are five Champions Leagues, four Club World Cups, three Premier Leagues, two La Ligas and Serie As and, of course, that trophy-bedecked partridge in a pear tree.
He was a monumental success at United first time around – and at Real Madrid – standing above the collected superstars at both clubs and generally dominating and frequently dictating the play. At Juventus, even though the trophies kept coming, it was clear that he didn’t rule proceedings in quite the same way; so when the chance of a return to the Premier League came he grabbed it. And though there was that brief period when it was thought he might actually cross Manchester to go to current champions City, it was never really on the cards that he’d turn out in blue. Once a red, always a red.
And despite the odd hiccup, it’s started pretty well, for Ronnie at least. Before that first match, he allegedly gave his new teammates a stirring dressing room speech, telling them exactly what they could expect from him in terms of passion, commitment and dedication to the shirt – but also detailing what he expected of them. One wonders precisely what manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was doing as the rousing call-to-arms and togetherness was delivered. Apparently Ronaldo said he wanted to create a “winning mentality” at the club and closed his speech with, “Are you ready to fight? Are you ready to leave everything on the pitch?” Isn’t that the manager’s job? But, anyway, it worked and the team did fight and leave everything on the pitch in that thrashing of Newcastle.
Things didn’t go quite so smoothly in the next match as, although the great man opened the scoring in the Champions League group encounter with Swiss side Young Boys, the Red Devils ultimately lost the match 2-1. The contest was proceeding exactly how Ronnie would have wanted when, just before half time, defender Aaron Wan-Bissaka was sent off for an over-the-ball, lunging tackle. Being down to ten men meant United were more defensive in the second-half, with Ronaldo mostly isolated in attack. And after Young Boys equalised, Solskjaer, seeking fresh legs, replaced Ronaldo and later Bruno Fernandes. That was fair enough; every manager is entitled to make the changes he thinks right at any time, but perhaps Solskjaer was concerned by the fact that rather than taking his place on the bench with the other United substitutes, Ronaldo stood on the touchline bawling out instructions, as well as encouragement, to his teammates. Once again, isn’t that the manager’s job? Ronnie’s ranting did little to help as Young Boys snatched the victory in the very final moments.
The defeat may not prove a disaster, as United will still probably make their way through a tough group to the knockout stages of Europe’s premier competition, but his touchline tactics did not go unnoticed. Former United teammate, Rio Ferdinand, now a BT Sport match summariser, commented after the match, “If I’m the manager, I’ve got to be honest, I’m telling him to sit down.” Since then, though, Ronaldo has once again displayed his magical touch by scoring an injury-time winner as United came from behind to beat Villarreal in their next, action-packed Group-F contest.
But there have been further setbacks too. After suffering an early Carabao Cup exit at the hands of West Ham, United then lost at Old Trafford to Aston Villa, bringing to an end their unbeaten start to the Premier League season. The entire footballing world waits with huge anticipation, but mixed opinions, on how Ronaldo’s return will ultimately pan out. Cristiano undoubtedly has a massive ego; it’s partly what makes him the all-time great player that he most certainly is. He’s not a one-man team, but with a much younger, less experienced United squad than when he was first at the club, he might at times be tempted to be exactly that.
Solskjaer was a well-loved, terrific goal scorer in his own United playing career, mostly seen with a boyish smile on his face, and consequently termed “the smiling assassin.” Ronaldo has a dazzling smile too – when he’s winning. But as the season unfolds it will be fascinating to see whether the manager needs to put on a hard face and remind the superstar exactly who’s in charge and who dictates tactics. Any winner-takes-all confrontation could go either way, and it might then be a case of, “My way or the highway!”
Let’s make colour black and white
Colour can be a mystery to me. I can see blue, light blue and dark blue. When it stands alone I can see green, and leaves are mostly green so that one’s easy. I can see dull red and bright red, but not when it’s overlaid thinly on black, and since I’m a Tottenham fan I’ve never much liked red anyway. I can see grey: if not in fifty shades, in at least three. But mauve and purple, deep or otherwise, have always been beyond my personal spectrum, so in any rainbow I see three colours at most. I first learned I was colour-blind in a routine health check aged around thirteen or fourteen. I was keen on art and a couple of years later, in preparation for an exam, I painted a portrait of a woman. The art teacher nodded her approval when she studied my effort. “Very good,” she said eventually, “but what made you give her a green face?”
So I do see colours, but not necessarily in the way non colour-blind people see them. Generally, it’s no big deal. I can see changing traffic lights (I think) and I know the red one’s at the top. Isn’t it? But when it comes to mixed colours, particularly those in the red/green palette, it becomes more difficult – and never more so than when watching televised sport, which can be frustrating and at times impossible. The recent rugby test series between the British Lions (in red) and the South African Springboks (in green) quickly became
unwatchable. And football, with Premier League clubs striving to outdo each other with yet another multi-coloured away strip, can increasingly be psychedelically mind-bending. Chelsea’s new on the road strip, for example, is dizzying: like a moving colour-blindness test.
Statistics show that one in twelve men and one in two hundred women are colour-blind, so that’s a lot of televised sport viewers. Bearing that in mind, I have a small request to clubs and to all those national sporting bodies. With a bit more pre-season consideration and conversation, followed by communication before your teams take to the field, it shouldn’t be too difficult to grant. On behalf of us all, when designing and selecting your kits, can you simply try to make colour as clear as black and white? Thanks.
Rigby’s Sports Shorts
Amid all the Emma Raducanu tennis hullaballoo, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Novak Djokovic failed to take the men’s title, losing to Russian Daniil Medvedev in the final, and therefore did not edge ahead of his great rivals, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the battle to notch up the most men’s majors. Somehow that feels right. All three are all-time greats, each with twenty majors to their name, and would one more for any of the three prove he was the greatest of them all? I doubt it.
Most reckon it’s a game and not a sport, but this chess playing achievement deserves special mention anyway. At twelve years, four months and 25 days, Abhimanyu Mishra from New Jersey in the USA has become the world’s youngest chess grandmaster, breaking Russian Sergey Karjakin’s record, which has stood for nineteen years. And they say chess players only get better with age!
The Olympics are long gone but some memories will linger on. My favourite is the way the support team came to the rescue after the nose of Australian, Jess Fox’s kayak was damaged in the heats of the canoe slalom, K1, class. Jess personally filmed a team member covering the nose with a carbon mixture before stretching a condom over the top to seal the repair. “It gives the carbon a smooth finish,” said Jess. And it worked; Jess went on to collect a bronze medal in the event.
Robert Rigby is a journalist, author and scriptwriter. His sport-themed fiction includes the novelisations of the “Goal!” movies and the four official London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics novels for children