Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro may have left magisterial Manchester United for Los Blancos in the summer of 2009 but he still holds a special place in Red Devils’ hearts. You ask any die-hard United fan why Cristiano is so memorable to them, they’ll remind you of this season. 2008 was the year he stopped being the “he has something about him” player and started to form into one of the greatest goalscoring machines of the modern game.
“I have never played against anybody like that in my life and I was pleased to be taken off.” – Robbie Bryan, Millwall left-back, whose job it was to mark Cristiano in the 2004 FA Cup Final.
A Headbutt, A Hat-Trick and Captaincy?
Cristiano finished the previous season with 17 goals in 34 Premier League games, not bad for a ‘winger’, but come August 2007, he had something different in his eye. A desire, something that I personally have never seen in my short, football loving existence. Honestly, he looked like he wanted to tear every fullback he came up against limb from limb, go back, and do it again. Spoiler: He did.
Defences were trembling before they’d even stepped out at Old Trafford, such is the profound effect of the boy from Madeira. His determination to demolish the opposition showed right away…
This dream season got off to a rather peculiar start when he head-butted Pompey’s Richard Hughes. The following red card and three-match ban, according to Ronaldo taught him to “not let opponents provoke him”. Whatever you say Cristiano…
Nevertheless, this hiccup proved no barrier as he amassed 13 goals by Christmas and came second behind Kaká in the race for the Ballon d’Or. The New Year brought goals, of course, but more importantly Cristiano’s first, and only hat trick in the red of United. It came in a 6-0 drubbing of Tyneside warriors Newcastle United. His first, most notably, was a cheeky free-kick driven under the wall, leaving Shay Given helpless.
If we skip ahead to March, just three months after his hat-trick, Cristiano was leading out United for the first time against Bolton Wanderers, as well as chalking up his 32nd and 33rd goals of the season. After barely being involved in the first four games due to suspension, Cristiano Ronaldo was leading the goalscoring line in European football, as a winger too!
The Golden Boot looked certain as the season, and the title race drew to its climax. Cristiano sealed the deal for both with a penalty on the final day against Wigan Athletic. Come the start of the season, Ronaldo was a naive 22-year-old, and by the end of it, he averaged a goal every 88 minutes.
Premier League title. Golden Boot. If only he could “do it in Europe…”
The Champions League
Well ladies and gents, he could. I mean of course he could! He’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Premier League champion! He had scored 31 goals in a Premier League season, seven more than second-place Fernando Torres! But could United do it?
Let’s skip the group stage malarkey and head on over to the tantalising knockout stage. Lyon was United’s first proper challenge, and honestly, they scraped it. Ronaldo’s tap-in ensured they progressed 2-1 on aggregate.
Next came the awkward Italians: Roma. Luciano Spalletti and his men were no issue for Cristiano as he contributed with a header and United went through 3-0 winners.
Ronaldo in the Champions League was deployed more as an out and out striker, which at first seemed odd because of his remarkable ability to skin fullbacks, but he grew into it and ultimately, came out Champions League top scorer.
His performances in the semi-final were something to forget as he missed a penalty in the first leg. Not to worry though as a certain Paul Scholes and his cannon of a right foot made sure United would be in the final.
I think it is important at this time to remember that although Cristiano Ronaldo had an unarguably significant role in Manchester United’s season, the rest of the squad weren’t a bunch of nobodies. They at times had an impenetrable defence, and Scholes, well, he ran the game from midfield.
The final against compatriots Chelsea was going to be incredible. Two heavyweight English clubs battling it out for continental glory. It was Ronaldo who kicked it all off, of course. A leap no different from that of an All-Star basketball player, combined with his unmatchable elegance allowed him to glance the ball into the corner past the imperious Petr Čech. The epitome of Cristiano Ronaldo in the 2007/08 season and although he missed his penalty in the shootout, his involvement in that Champions League run was magnificent.
Add Champions League winner to that list I keep talking about and now you’ve got to believe that this is one of Ronaldo’s greatest seasons. To me, it doesn’t matter how many goals he managed to score for a Galactic Real Madrid, or how many he will score for consistent table-toppers Juventus because this will always be the season he cemented his place as one of the greatest.
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