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Throwback Thursday: Why Cristiano Ronaldo Left Manchester United

Opinion: What was the real reason behind Cristiano Ronaldo leaving Manchester United in 2009?

In honor of it being Thursday how about doing a little #TBT to 2009 when, following a season filled with speculation and rumors, Cristiano Ronaldo made an £80 million move from Manchester United to Real Madrid.

Ronaldo had just led Manchester United to a third straight Premier League title, back-to-back UEFA Champions League Finals appearances (one win), and a FIFA Club World Cup. Things were really good for him in Manchester, he fit into the team great with Wayne Rooney and he had just signed a massive new five year contract in 2007. So how come all of a sudden Cristiano Ronaldo was so hellbent on leaving?

*For the sake of this column, please join me in ignoring the obvious answer of money. Real Madrid offered to pay him a crap load of money. 

There are a myriad of answers as to why Ronaldo wanted to leave Manchester United, but here’s one you may not have heard. Ronaldo’s ego couldn’t handle playing at the same club as Paul Scholes.

That’s right, Paul Scholes. The quiet little redhead who would go home after training to his family every day. The guy who did whatever he could to stay out of the spotlight was the one who Ronaldo’s ego couldn’t handle.

At this point you probably think I’m crazy so let’s explain. As you know, Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the most egotistical athletes in the world. I mean the guy has his hair stylist visit his wax figurine once a month to maintain the figurine’s fake hair.

Ronaldo is always about Ronaldo, and that’s nothing new. When he first arrived to Old Trafford Ronaldo was an exciting prospect with an arsenal of fancy tricks. During those first few years watching him complete his countless step-overs and faking out defenders was more exciting then the game itself; hell it’s one of the main reasons I fell in love with the beautiful game. But Ronaldo was still raw, and the goals and fancy free kicks we know him for now hadn’t come yet.

Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United celebrates after winning the Barclays Premier League -------------------- Barclays Premier League Manchester United v Arsenal 16 May 2009 ****** NORTH & SOUTH AMERICA SALES ONLY ----- NO AGENTS ----- NORTH & SOUTH AMERICA SALES ONLY ******

As the years moved on the goal scoring started to develop. By the 2007/08 Ronaldo had added breathtaking goals and free kicks to his already deadly arsenal of tricks. The 2008 season saw him score 42 goals in all competitions (pretty good for the Premier League where he faces real teams every week unlike in Spain) and many now considered Ronaldo to be the best player in the world.

For Ronaldo, being the best player in the world was always his goal, and now he was very close to achieving that. There was only one problem. Many inside of his own dressing room didn’t consider him to be the best player on his own team.

Enter Paul Scholes. When Paul Scholes was a member of Manchester United, any time another player was interviewed, whether it be for TV, a newspaper, or the match-day program, if they were ever asked who the best player in training was 100% of the time they answered Paul Scholes. Any variation of the question, whether it be who is the most accurate, who scores the best goals, who does the best tricks, all yielded the same answer: Paul Scholes.

By now the training ground stories of Scholes are legendary. If a player had his back turned 60 yards away from Scholes, Scholes would launch a ball that would hit him right in the back of the head. There’s even the famous one of Scholes telling Ronaldo he would hit a tree that was between 55-60 yards away on the first try. Scholes did, Ronaldo spent the next 20 minutes trying.

For Ronaldo he always had to be the center of attention. At that point of his career, he was the center of the English Premier League, so it seemed, but he wasn’t the center of his attention on his own team. To make matters worse, there was no way he would ever become it. As long as Paul Scholes (and Ryan Giggs for that matter) were around it was always going to be their team. For all the glitz and glamour that Ronaldo brought, he could never upstage the shy and quiet redhead.

Now there will always be those that point out that when Ronaldo was asked the same “who is the best player in training” question he, like everyone else, also answered Scholes. Well of course he did, you can’t name yourself in that situation and there is just no point in alienating anyone when the rest of your team unanimously agrees on a certain player. It’s actually one of the smarter things he did.

Soccer - Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur FA Cup Fourth Round  - Old Trafford - 27/1/08 Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo (R) celebrates scoring his sides second goal with team mate Paul Scholes .****NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA SALES ONLY----NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA SALES ONLY****

Was there not enough room at Manchester United for both Ronaldo and Scholes?

Real Madrid gave him that chance. Ronaldo was going to be their high priced star. The team would be built around him and he’d be the center of their marketing campaign. At Real, he’d be getting global exposure. Something he wasn’t going to get at United. A move to Madrid would allow Ronaldo to become a bigger global superstar then he already was. It would be the perfect move for him.

So for Ronaldo the choice ended up being simple. Go to Real Madrid and be the center of attention in Madrid, Spain, and the world; or he could stay in Manchester and continue to dominate the deepest league in the world with the best manager in the world but still be in the shadow of Paul Scholes.

For a man with an ego as big as Ronaldo’s, it was always obvious what choice he would make. Oh right, and there was all that money too.

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