The long goodbye that began in earnest in summer 2008, with Real Madrid’s entreaties, and the drip-drip of public pronouncements from sloganeers, has finally played itself out. The fabled shirt is vacant once more.
For those who mourn the passing of one of the modern game’s finest talents, a word of advice: don’t dab your eyes as he dots the ‘I’s on his new contract. Memories are wonderful and precious things, but that, ultimately, is all they are. They will not win trophies, nor push us forward; and the quest for fresh challenges has always kept Sir Alex one step ahead of the chasing pack.
We’ve been down this road before, of course. We were told we should never have sold the goals of Ruud van Nistelrooy; that we would never replace David Beckham’s dead-ball expertise, or transplant the lungs and heart of Roy Keane anew. We did and we have. There will be new names to conjure with, new songs to learn and sing.
Of course, we will miss Ronaldo’s quest for invention; yes we will smile fondly as we recall the astonishing, buck-toothed, spaghetti-haired kid who bewildered Bolton’s defence for 29-minutes six summers back. That initial cameo was a performance so dripping with wit and wonder, those fortunate enough to have seen George Best in the flesh were moved to make comparison. Six summers: half a career.
Will he burn brightly enough to score 42 goals in a season in Spain? Who knows? Will he miss the arm of Sir Alex, the paternal, protective touch in those long, dark moments of the soul? Probably. Will we miss him? Yes, of course – those capable of pinging in 40-yarders to order are in short order. But we can and will move on. The adventure continues.
Goodbye Cristiano and good luck. You will live in interesting times; the times you leave behind may yet prove to have been the most interesting.