Since Cristiano Ronaldo left Manchester United in 2009, there's been a hole left in the club's fans hearts that will only be filled by his return.
Indeed, the emotional bond between player and club is something of a surprise; there have been players who have scored more goals, played more games and won more trophies, but for a certain generation the Portuguese superstar is king of M16.
Perhaps the bond endures because their journey to the top ran parallel - in Manchester United's case their emergence from skirmishes with Chelsea and Arsenal in the early part of the noughties to European Champions in 2008; for Ronaldo his development from weedy winger to fully-formed best player in the world candidate that was incubated at Old Trafford.
Perhaps the link is more simple than that; Manchester United fans love him because he is one of the best, he loves Manchester United because they made him one of the best.
Either way, there is genuine affection harboured between these two giants of the game, and rarely does a month go by without one talking about the other.
Open to return
So it was no surprise to hear Ronaldo answer 'one day maybe' when quizzed about a possible return to Manchester ahead of a pre-season friendly against his former side - this is the man who admitted he was 'sad' to have scored against the Red Devils after helping to knock them out of the Champions League in what turned out to be Sir Alex Ferguson's last season at the helm.
Emotion can easily lure sane men away from rational decisions, and it is hard to escape the feeling that a Ronaldo return to Old Trafford would be a mistake, for the club at least. Of course at face value they would be getting one of the most prolific scorers in the game's history, and fans would rejoice but there are a few signs that should set alarm bells ringing.
Presumably he would command a world record fee - perhaps one in excess of £100 million, but it would be a senseless deal and not just from a financial perspective.
At 29-years-old he is past his peak years, at least traditionally speaking. Of course, Ronaldo is a remarkable physical specimen and his scoring last season showed he is at the peak of his powers, but his worrying injury record towards the end of last season betrays a feeling that he can't go on forever. He struggled to make it to some of Real Madrid's key fixtures and wasn't at his best at the World Cup, struggling with knee tendinitis which is notoriously difficult to shake off - just ask Owen Hargreaves.
Indeed in Brazil his struggles were laid bare. He maintained publicly that he was fine but reports filtered through that his doctor had told him he could end his career if he played, and official FIFA stats show he wasn't even his own country's quickest player (that honour went to Fabio Coentrao), let alone in the top 10 quickest at the tournament. That's quite something when you consider that Ronaldo can rightly claim to be one of, if not the, quickest player in the sport.
Of course that leads to an obvious question; what is Ronaldo without his physical attributes? His game is based on speed, he batters opponents with brutish force. He jumps higher than most, and hits the ball harder than most. What he doesn't have, is adaptability. Take away his physical attributes and what is he left with? His pass success rate has hovered around the 75-85% mark for the past handful of seasons which is nothing spectacular, while he has never averaged more than two key passes-per-game in La Liga in the last three years. Compare that to Lionel Messi, who has a more all-round game and has a three-year high of three key passes-per-game.
Race to the top
Of course Ronaldo's rise to the top was helped by his relentless drive and determination, so don't expect him to give up without a fight, but it is hard to figure out where he could shine if he is unable to make his trademark bursts on the counter attack. He won't drop into midfield like Ryan Giggs because his passing isn't good enough. He can't do a Steven Gerrard and drop deeper because that would only take him further away from goal, which would be futile if he is no longer able to get up the pitch. He doesn't have the skillset to be a genuine number ten for the reasons outlined above. So where does he go? The answer is he stays on the wing with a license to roam, but will gradually become less effective.
Despite that, there's a good chance that Manchester United could still sign him. Why? Well the answer is simple. Footballers are no longer just that, they are commercial entities, and no footballer, not even Messi, packs a commercial punch like Ronaldo and his CR7 brand. He's just launched his own range of underwear and shoes, for crying out loud.
There's no club more commercially minded than Manchester United either; at the last count they had 22 'commercial partners' including an official savoury snacks partner, while their 'investor relations' page boasts of various things including traffic to their website and social media popularity, but mentions football just once.
So in that respect at least they could be a match made in heaven. If Ronaldo returned to Old Trafford the financial boost he would bring would far outweigh the outlay to get the deal done. But, Manchester United fans, don't expect him to be the player he once was if he does rock up on Sir Matt Busby Way once more.
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