It’s not every day you can claim that both Liverpool and Manchester United are striving to reach a common goal, but in their reported efforts to bring back both Xabi Alonso and Cristiano Ronaldo to their respective ‘homes’, the North West duo are perhaps both harbouring the same ambition.
In the case of Brendan Rodgers’ side, recent speculation suggesting that the Reds are set to try and take advantage of Alonso’s stalling contractual situation at Real Madrid, should come as no surprise.
As well as being esteemed in recent history with the Anfield outfit, the 31-year-old still remains one of the most effective midfielders in European football and one that would harness a significant impact should he join the Ulsterman’s side. When turning the attention to the possibility of a Ronaldo return to Old Trafford, you can perhaps amplify both the nostalgia and footballing impact tenfold.
But while there won’t be a single supporter in either of the red halves of Manchester or Liverpool who wouldn’t want to see one of their Iberian heroes make a transfer back to their former homes, it appears little thought has been given to what many perceive to be the impossible.
To steal a line from Margaret Atwood here, ‘If farewells are shattering, then returns are surely worse’. The clichés that adorn this game usually tend to circle around for a reason and the age-old adage of ‘never going back’ within football holds gravitas for a reason.
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Certainly, while history has usually frowned upon the case of the famous ex-player returning to their old stomping grounds, if there were two players talented enough to add to their résumés at their former clubs rather than subtract from them, Alonso and Ronaldo would be the duo.
Considering both players have in fact improved as footballers since they initially exchanged the North West for the Spanish capital – most notably of course Ronaldo who has since reached a level that few in history will attain, let alone his peers – it seems difficult to buy into the notion that either are likely to do too much immediate damage to their respective legacies.
Should Liverpool manage to pull off what would be a considerable coup in luring Alonso back to the Premier League, Brendan Rodgers would be acquiring a player with a range of passing and an adeptness in possession that makes him something of a perfect cog for the compact passing machine he’s looking to cultivate at the club. Far from simply being an everlasting fan favourite, an Alonso return would do far more than simply appease the supporters. It should make a real impact on first-team proceedings too.
And if Alonso’s potential return has the ability to galvanise Rodgers’ side, then it perhaps feels difficult to quantify what Ronaldo’s touted return might do at United.
If he left Old Trafford at the top of the proverbial tree, then he would almost certainly return to the club on a plateau of ability far removed from not just anything unseen at the club in recent times, but perhaps the entire league, too. Alongside one Lionel Messi, the Portuguese does of course make up 50 per cent of the two best players in the world and the gap that separates the duo from the rest of the chasing gap is quite the sizeable chasm indeed.
Similarly to Alonso, regardless of the history that Ronaldo worked so hard to carve out during his first spell at Old Trafford, he would return to the club as the closest thing to a guaranteed 40-goals-a season as you may ever be likely to find. There can’t exactly be too many negatives found in buying the world’s best player, surely?
Perhaps immediately, no. But in terms of damaging their legacy, it’s perhaps dangerous to preempt the notion that either Alonso or Ronaldo are likely to massively add to what they’ve already achieved at their respective former clubs.
Should they both make their returns, the Madrid duo will be re-arriving in this country at the very top of their trades. They’ve both seen it all, won more or less everything there is to win and currently find themselves as the outstanding performers of their positions. But surely at this point, there’s no more road left for them to tread – to play Devil’s advocate, is it not now all downhill from here?
Given their respective talents, it is of course quite easy to lay waste to the notion that either will stall upon their return to a league in which they’ve both dominated and since become better players. But for as well as they may or may not do, it seems hard to foresee us sitting here in three years time paying homage to a return that trumped their initial spell.
In returning to Liverpool, Alonso will no longer be playing in a side that can lay claim to regular Champions League participation. Despite his age, the Spaniard is of course comfortably superior to both Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen. But how much more success is he really likely to attain alongside the 33-year-old Steven Gerrard some four years since the partnership initially disintegrated?
Similarly with Ronaldo, while you’d expect nothing more than a hatful of goals, how much is he going to have to do to even equal his achievements of his last spell? It’s easy to forget that he left Old Trafford having won two Premier League titles on the bounce and reaching two Champions League finals, too, one of which he famously helped win the season before his departure.
This isn’t to say that their theoretical returns to their former clubs would harness anything less than a positive impact. But for as unworldly their footballing gifts may be, the achievements that both Xabi Alonso and Cristiano Ronaldo achieved on their path to greatness, were of a similarly giddy stature. Equaling them may be no easy feat.
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