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Ronaldo may be 36, but his time at Man Utd won’t be a short-lived affair – and fans can’t wait

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A 36-year-old returning to the football club that propelled him to stardom as a teenager?

That would normally be a short-lived affair. A feel-good farewell, fading legs – one last little earner.

But Cristiano Ronaldo returning to Old Trafford is nothing of the sort.

Ronaldo will be wearing the iconic No 7 shirt for Manchester United once again
Image: Ronaldo will be wearing the iconic No 7 shirt for Manchester United once again

The Portuguese star is set to make his second debut for Manchester United later today, 12 years after he left the Premier League club to join Real Madrid.

Ronaldo is now talking about the next “three or four years” at the club – that would take him towards 40.

Pele retired at 36, Diego Maradona was 37. If any player can go that much further without embarrassing himself, it’s Ronaldo.

The extraordinary ability, the physique, the hunger, the desire – it’s all still there.

More on Cristiano Ronaldo

Record shirt sales this past week mean United are feeling vindicated in doing everything they could to make sure he wore their iconic number 7 again – and not the blue of their noisy, richer neighbours at the Etihad.

“He’s just a living legend,” United fan Ahmad Hassan told Sky News while he was having a cut at the Everyman Barbers in central Manchester.

“I’m 18, you know the stories about him but so many of us haven’t seen him live – I just can’t wait.”

Barber Jake Cook agrees – he’s a Fulham fan who randomly once threw a paper aeroplane that hit Ronaldo at Craven Cottage in his first spell at United.

“It’ll be surreal for him and surreal for all the generations of fans,” Jake said.

“It’s created a proper buzz… I was just daft doing the paper aeroplane prank but you can’t keep your eyes off him – he’s that kind of player.”

For younger United fans like Ahmed Hassan, this will be the first time they can see Ronaldo in action for the club
Image: For younger United fans like Ahmed Hassan, this will be the first time they can see Ronaldo in action for the club

In the next barber’s chair, steelworker David Williams has been a lifelong United fan.

The 32-year-old said: “It’s the best transfer window for us that I can remember.

“We just couldn’t let City have him… I can’t wait but it doesn’t put everything right.

“I still personally know lads who still won’t go to the games while the Glazers are still in charge whoever they sign even him… some of them just sell their tickets on every week.”

The civil war that erupted at Old Trafford back in May when fans stormed the stadium – forcing a match to be called off in the wake of the doomed European Super League plot – was one of the angriest chapters in the club’s recent past.

The Glazers remain in charge, but the club insists they have taken the feelings of the fans on board and are moving to put things right.

Chief operating officer Collette Roche told Sky News that the process to build better relationships isn’t confined to signing new star players like Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and now the special one – Ronaldo.

“We wouldn’t just rely on Cristian to create that fan sentiment,” she said.

“We have put a lot of time in with our fans over the past six to nine months listening to what they are saying, revisiting what the fan’s forum discusses, setting up a new advisory board and we are also looking to put a fan share scheme in.

“So all that together has meant, I think, that we are starting to really reset that relationship.”

The stage is set for Manchester United's showdown against Newcastle
Image: The stage is set for Manchester United’s showdown against Newcastle

Ronaldo is not in Manchester for the last hurrah, he’s at Old Trafford to bring back the kind of success and trophies he won first time round.

In that team, he played alongside Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – he’s now playing for him.

The current boss believes Ronaldo was the best he ever played with – now he has him back in red and ready to go again. They both know just what’s expected.