Manchester United must sign Gerard Pique

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A group of Manchester United supporters donated a combined total of £3000 to send a plane flying over Villarreal's home stadium with the banner 'Come Home Ronaldo' attached to it in a desperate attempt to convince Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo to return to Old Trafford.

It attracted much publicity for the group in question 'United Reel', but not all of it positive. Many Red Devils' supporters have made the perfectly valid point that the last thing United currently need is another attacking winger - particularly one approaching his 30th birthday but would still cost the earth to sign.

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United fans feeding Ronaldo's ego

The point has also been made that these United supporters are pandering to Ronaldo's already over-inflated ego. While the prolific Portuguese superstar maintains that his former employers occupy a special place in his heart, many Manchester United fans - blinded by his remarkable goalscoring statistics since joining Real Madrid in 2009 - have chosen to ignore the controversial manner in which he forced his way out of Old Trafford.

Ronaldo's dream was to play in the famous white shirt of Real Madrid, and had it been up to him he would have joined Los Blancos after Manchester United secured their third European Cup with that dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over Chelsea in Moscow six years ago.

Ronaldo was desperate to leave United

In the end, mainly because Real Madrid were reluctant to stump up the required cash, Ronaldo made an agreement with Sir Alex Ferguson to stay at the club for a further season.

This was no act of kindness or heroism from the two-time Ballon d'Or winner. In June 2008 - the summer Ronaldo initially wanted to leave United - he told reporters that he was in complete agreement with Sepp Blatter when the FIFA president stupidly said Manchester United were treating him "like a modern-day slave".

Yet fans still sing his name to this very day - partly because it's a catchy tune and involves scarf waving - because he helped the club win multiple trophies while scoring spectacular goals in the process.

Ronaldo will soon enter early stages of decline

What some fans fail to recognise is that, sooner or later, Ronaldo will enter the early stages of decline. This is a player, aged 29, who has made almost 600 career club appearances and earned 114 caps for the Portuguese national team.

Realistically, because he looks after himself and is a model professional, Ronaldo probably has a maximum of four years left at the very top. He will soon need to find another position for himself on the pitch as his body begins to slow down, though, and may become an out-and-out number nine in the latter stages of his career.

More than anything, at this moment in time, United need players for two key positions - and not one of them is a striker or a winger, regardless of the number of goals Ronaldo currently scores in La Liga and the Champions League.

Come Home Pique

United Reel could have put their hard-earned cash to better use by sending a plane banner over the Camp Nou instead, with the message 'Come Home Pique'.

Manchester United desperately need a top-quality centre-back to partner Phil Jones and there are few better central defenders in world football than Barcelona's Gerard Pique, who is going through a particularly difficult time with his current employers at the moment.

The Spain international, who spent four years with the Red Devils before returning to his boyhood club in 2008 after failing to displace either Rio Ferdinand or Nemanja Vidic in the United back-four, was a surprise omission from Barcelona's starting line-up to face Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Pique has fallen out of favour at Barcelona

Pique was expected to return to the heart of Barcelona's defence after manager Luis Enrique left him out of the squad for the 6-0 win over Granada last weekend, but only made the bench against the Parisians.

Enrique stuck with Jeremy Mathieu and Javier Mascherano as his centre-back duo, with reports in Spain claiming that Barcelona are not happy with Pique's attitude.

It's true that Pique is a player who doesn't dedicate his every working minute to improving himself as a player - he has the off-field interests, the superstar girlfriend, the child and more - but he remains one of the world's best defenders and there's no doubt he would improve Manchester United's vulnerable back-line.

Pique may need new chalelnge

Perhaps Pique feels that he needs a new challenge. He has not looked quite the same player following the departure of Pep Guardiola in 2012, and may feel that he has unfinished business at Old Trafford.

Pique admitted earlier this year that Manchester United were his second club, behind Barcelona, and he no longer needs to worry about Roy Keane.

Relationship with Van Gaal

The only potential stumbling block would be United boss Louis van Gaal, who didn't exactly leave a positive impression on Pique when they met for the first time.

Van Gaal, who previously managed Barcelona, first encountered Pique when the defender was a teenager - and wasn't convinced he had a future in football.

"I didn't know him a lot because I was really young when he was Barcelona's coach, but he had a really good relationship with my grandfather, the former vice-president of the club," Pique told Sport. "I had the chance to see him one day at my grandfather's house when I was 12 or 13 years old.

"He arrived at the house and he knew I was playing for the Barcelona youth team.

"He pushed me and I fell to the floor, and he said 'you are not tough enough to be a centre-back'."

However, Pique finished by saying that while Van Gaal "is a disciplinarian", he thought the veteran Dutch coach would do "brilliantly" at Old Trafford.

Perhaps it's now all water under the bridge between the two men. Pique has certainly proved Van Gaal wrong over the past six years.

And one thing's for sure: Van Gaal would absolutely love to bring the Spaniard back to Manchester United given the chance in January.

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Manchester United
Gerard Pique
Premier League
Cristiano Ronaldo
Real Madrid
La Liga

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