Speculation involving Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo and a return to Manchester United is intensifying; however, the Portugal captain will need to change his ‘CR7’ nickname on his return to Old Trafford because the Red Devils’ iconic number seven shirt is Angel di Maria’s for keeps now.
Ronaldo gave up the rights to the No. 7 shirt the moment he decided to leave Manchester United for Real Madrid five years ago.
While wearing that shirt - previously occupied by the likes of Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Bryan Robson and George Best - he went from a raw teenager with all the talent in the world along with a few significant weaknesses, to world renowned superstar and Ballon d’Or winner.
Ronaldo: Born to wear No. 7
Manchester United legend Sir Alex Ferguson realised this was a player with immense potential as soon as he arrived through the doors of Old Trafford in the summer of 2003, which is why Ronaldo was handed the No. 7 shirt, vacated by Beckham weeks earlier, straight away.
Ronaldo was one of those players born to wear the famous jersey. His debut against Bolton Wanderers will live long in the memory of those inside Old Trafford on that warm afternoon back in August 2003.
Every time he got the ball there was a buzz of immense anticipation. There were the flicks, tricks, step-overs and, most importantly, an end product. He would go on to produce even better performances over the course of the next six years.
Di Maria produces Ronaldo-esque display v QPR
During Sunday’s 4-0 victory over Queens Park Rangers, United fans must have experienced an odd sense of deja vu.
While Di Maria is already a household name, his masterclass against Harry Redknapp’s side on his home debut at the weekend left Manchester United supporters gobsmacked at what they had just witnessed from the Argentina international.
It was a Ronaldo-esque performance - and praise doesn’t come any higher than that.
Like Ronaldo, Di Maria looked born to wear Manchester United’s iconic No. 7 shirt on his first outing at Old Trafford. He was direct and energetic, he produced some fabulous moments of skill, he provided an assist for Juan Mata and he even got himself on the scoresheet.
Ronaldo will want No. 7 shirt back
Di Maria may have set United back a cool £59.7 million, but on the evidence of this display that fee will look a steal in five years’ time - just as the £80 million fee Real Madrid paid for Ronaldo in 2009 looks a bargain today.
Whatever Manchester United fans like to think about Ronaldo, one thing’s abundantly clear: he is a player with one of the biggest egos in world football.
He’ll want the No. 7 shirt if he was to return to Manchester United next summer - of that there is no doubt.
But why should Di Maria give it up? He’s just spent the past few years living in Ronaldo’s shadow at the Bernabeu, so the prospect of his former teammate rejoining him at Old Trafford is unlikely to fill him with joy, even if they do get on perfectly well both on and off the pitch.
United have a new hero
Di Maria has the chance to become a legend at Manchester United and cement his name alongside those of Cantona, Best and, yes, Ronaldo as one of the club’s all-time greats.
Taking the No. 7 shirt off of him and handing it to Ronaldo, a player who’ll by in his thirties by this point, would be a poor move on United’s part.
It might only be a number in the eyes of many, but there is a certain prestige that comes with wearing the No. 7 shirt at Old Trafford - and it’s clear that Di Maria has what it takes to handle the responsibly and, most importantly, flourish.
Giving it back to Ronaldo and assigning the South American a less important number would be a major blow to Di Maria’s confidence and felling of importance at Manchester United - and it mustn’t happen.