Manchester United have been offered fresh hope of re-signing Cristiano Ronaldo after Spanish football expert Guillem Balague suggested the Real Madrid superstar could leave Real Madrid in 2016.
Speaking on Sky Sports' La Liga Weekly podcast, the TV presenter and journalist confidently claimed there was no chance that the Portugal international would be sold this summer, but fuelled speculation of a possible departure at the end of next season.
Ronaldo signed a new long-term contract with the European champions just 18 months ago, which ties him to the club until 2018. However, Balague believes Real could look to cash-in on their star man before that point, possibly as soon as next summer.
"They gave him a new deal recently and the idea is to keep him for the summer,” explained the Revista de la Liga pundit. “Now next summer is when I think we will start hearing a lot of stories about Ronaldo where not only Madrid, but Ronaldo, may think about leaving.
"Now this is in a year and a half’s time when he will be 31, so an age when he can still do a lot for Madrid, but from that summer on we are just going to hear a lot of stories about clubs trying to convince him to move on.
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“This summer he is certainly going to stay. Next summer is going to be fun.”
Balague's comments came in a discussion with fellow Spanish football pundit Terry Gibson, who was defending a previous statement he made that Real Madrid should sell Ronaldo at the end of this campaign.
Gibson stood by his words - even after Balague labelled him "crazy" for such a suggestion - after reiterating his view that Carlo Ancelotti will have a better collective side to pick from when the three-time FIFA Ballon d'Or winner departs.
“My criticism last week was not criticism of him as a player,” he said. “I just think at times life would be a touch easier for Ancelotti in particular if he had some sort of idea how to get the best out of Madrid with Ronaldo in the team.
“They do rely on Ronaldo being on form every single game. And when he is not, it is difficult for Madrid to come up with a game plan."
Premier League return?
The fresh rumours will understandably excite Manchester United supporters still dreaming of an Old Trafford reunion with their former star in the future. Louis van Gaal would surely welcome the opportunity to bring a player of Ronaldo's calibre to the Theatre of Dreams, even if it is to play in his predictably pragmatic and rigid team formation.
Real Madrid fans: Is Terry Gibson right? Would Carlo Ancelotti benefit from cashing in on Cristiano Ronaldo? When do you think the time is going to be right for him to move on? Share your thoughts below...