Having made his name on the world stage at rivals Manchester United in the 2000s, the Old Trafford faithful were fearful of now having to watch a star who had helped them win three Premier League titles and a Champions League represent the blue half of the city.
But City withdrew their interest after talks with his agent Jorge Mendes and, after conversations with former boss Sir Alex Ferguson, Ronaldo sealed a sensational return to United from Juventus on deadline day.
Cristiano Ronaldo was courted by Manchester City before his dramatic return to Man United
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (left) is perhaps the most relieved man to have Ronaldo in his squad
And Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be the most glad of all that Ronaldo will figure in red rather than blue when the first Manchester derby of the season kicks off at Old Trafford in the Saturday lunchtime game.
Some of the more cynical would argue the Portugal international has kept the under-fire Norwegian in a job. After all, it was Ronaldo who sublimely opened the scoring at Tottenham in what was referred to as ‘El Sackico’ after Nuno Espirito Santo’s subsequent departure from Spurs.
Then in three of their four Champions League games this season – the latest in Bergamo on Tuesday – Ronaldo has struck late to rescue two wins and a draw against the likes of Villarreal and Atalanta.
Jack Grealish (R), Raheem Sterling (L), and Gabriel Jesus have had to step up this season
City themselves were involved in their own striker saga away from Ronaldo during the summer, with a mooted £150m move for Harry Kane never in truth coming close to completion.
No alternative was sought nor bought, leaving the Premier League champions with one striker fewer than they had in 2020-21 following club record goalscorer Sergio Aguero’s departure on a free transfer.
Ferran Torres, Gabriel Jesus, Riyad Mahrez and Phil Foden comprise the main party to have stepped up this season to try and mitigate the lack of central striking options available to Pep Guardiola.
But despite their best efforts, they have scored six fewer goals than Premier League leaders Chelsea and nine fewer than Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, meaning talk of who City may look to sign in January or the summer has not fallen by the wayside.
Pep Guardiola saw no big-name striker added to his squad in the summer, so should he regret not signing Ronaldo?
Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland is among the most heavily linked but such a high-profile name will have to wait until the end of the season, which leaves Guardiola with the prospect of going the entire campaign without reinforcing his attack.
However, when he looks out over Old Trafford on Saturday he will look at a player in Ronaldo who so easily could have proved – albeit in the short term – to be an ideal signing.
Paul Scholes and Rio Ferdinand have already anticipated a humbling for United, but will the Catalan boss be feeling any regret ahead of kick-off given the lack of a world-renowned goalscorer in his squad? Sportsmail compares Ronaldo’s return in front of goal to City’s attacking options to find out…
Ronaldo has taken little time getting back into the swing of things as a Man United star, scoring four goals and recording one assist in his seven Premier League games so far this season.
Crucially, that number of four is higher than any of Pep Guardiola’s forwards have managed so far this season, though Phil Foden is right on his tail with three having played one game fewer.
Gabriel Jesus, Riyad Mahrez and Ferran Torres have all found the net twice, while England internationals Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling have just a solitary strike to their name.
However, Brazilian Jesus has laid on five assists for his City team-mates while Grealish also has a better return than Ronaldo in this category, managing two in his nine games. Sterling is the only City forward yet to register a Premier League assist in 2021-22.
Ronaldo has scored four Premier League goals this term, more than any other City forward
Ronaldo also holds a seemingly enviable return of 138.5 minutes per goal in the Premier League this season.
For most players, that would bring a certain level of satisfaction, but the fact 21 other stars in the Premier League can boast a superior return will not sit well with the 36-year-old Portugal star.
Out of those 21, 17 have scored at least two top-flight goals this season, while Liverpool star Mohamed Salah – who is averaging a goal every 90 minutes – is already in double figures.
Crucially however, a City player in the form of Algerian forward Mahrez does appear among those 17, currently averaging a goal every 130 minutes of top-flight action.
Torres and Foden are not far behind in the 150s, and while these statistics can go no way to making an assessment on United’s reliance on Ronaldo, it does suggest that City are sharing the goals around with three players in the top 30 in the category.
However, Algerian forward Riyad Mahrez (R) has a better minutes per goal ratio than Ronaldo
A glance at the Premier League table also seems to confirm that City and United are not solely reliant on one source for goals. The former have scored one more with 20, with the five City players mentioned in this piece contributing 11 of those.
Meanwhile in the red half of Manchester, 15 of the 19 goals Solskjaer’s men have scored this season have come from someone other than Ronaldo.
Greenwood and Fernandes are on the same number as Ronaldo, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford have scored twice, while Edinson Cavani – courtesy of a Ronaldo assist at Spurs – and Fred have also netted.
However, Ronaldo’s expected goals tally is also higher than his own team-mates.
The best attacking players usually score more than expected, and while Ronaldo’s expected goals is only 0.25 above his actual goal tally, Greenwood and Fernandes – the others to score four goals – have an expected goals tally of 1.51 and 2.33.
For the blue half of Manchester, Foden and Mahrez’s goal tally surpasses their expected goals, with the former particularly impressive given that his three goals have come with a rate of 1.94.
Mason Greenwood (R) and Bruno Fernandes (L) have also scored four top-flight goals
Nevertheless, and rather unsurprisingly, when it comes to shots on goal, Ronaldo easily beats any City forward, with Jesus’ 19 efforts the closest to his fellow Portuguese-speaking attacker’s tally of 27.
However, just 10 of those shots have been on target, handing the Portugal international a shooting accuracy, excluding blocks, of a tad above 55.5 per cent.
While City’s stars have appeared to have a go at goal with less frequency than Ronaldo, they do appear more accurate than Ronaldo when they have.
Eight of Jesus’ 19 shots have been on target, but the Brazil forward still records a 61 per cent shot accuracy, while Grealish’s is further superior at 70 per cent despite just seven of his 16 shots being on target.
However, fellow England star Foden dwarfs all of his team-mates as well as Ronaldo, with a 90 per cent shooting accuracy. The 21-year-old’s shots on target to shots ratio is excellent too, with nine of his 13 forcing some sort of intervention.
At the other end of the scale, Sterling has the worst shooting accuracy with 44 per cent, but that is expected given his struggles in front of goal and more generally under Guardiola this term.
Phil Foden has shown remarkable accuracy when shooting and has an impressive expected goals return
The two other forwards – Mahrez and Torres – have so far returned a shooting accuracy of 50 per cent, but they do hold superior numbers than Ronaldo in other areas.
The former Real Madrid and Juventus star’s impact can be measured by the amount of big chances created for him, with his six not bettered by any of his Man City rivals.
Yet Mahrez and Torres’ return in that category stands at 66.67 per cent, though that should be caveated by the fact they have only been on the end of three big chances, scoring once.
The same applies when it comes to shot conversion rate, as their 15.38 per cent is superior to Ronaldo’s 14.81 per cent, but again Ronaldo’s 27 shots are far above the City duo’s 13.
Foden however stars once more, with a 23.18 per cent shot conversion rate, as well as being the only player out of all those mentioned to score from a fast break.
Perhaps the most surprising data in the statistics comes from the fact that Ronaldo has yet to register a headed effort at goal in his seven Premier League matches, particularly given his aerial prowess which has already come to the fore against Atalanta.
Meanwhile, Grealish is the only member of City’s attacking line-up who remains on zero headers at goal, while Torres is the only player of them all to net with his head following his late effort against Arsenal in September.
The figures therefore appear to demonstrate that City have done rather well in the absence of a world superstar up front and have effectively managed to share the shots – and more importantly goals – around.
Yet despite some of the criticism Ronaldo came in for as the rut in the Premier League really set in last month following defeats by Leicester and Liverpool, the Portuguese is an outstanding addition to United’s squad.
Rio Ferdinand said in midweek Ronaldo’s greatest strength comes in what many consider the hardest thing in the game, finding the net.
Moreover, his latest top-flight strike demonstrated just how stunning that talent is, getting back onside and then peeling off Ben Davies with smart movement, followed by a simply sumptuous strike on the volley from Bruno Fernandes’ ball.
And that’s before you even mention the incredible volley against Bergamo in midweek. It appears both sides have found their style up top, with City looking for young talent to shine while their rivals are led by one of the game’s greatest.
Ferran Torres is the only City forward to have scored a header in the league this season
So what of Ronaldo’s record against City?
Guardiola therefore may not look too enviously when Ronaldo walks out of the Old Trafford tunnel on Saturday, but that has not saved him from the headache of devising a plan within 24 hours to stop him.
‘They [Man United] have one of the best players in history, a guy who can be a scoring machine,’ Guardiola said of Ronaldo after his City side beat Club Brugge in the Champions League this week.
Surprisingly, the 36-year-old has not demonstrated his relentless goalscoring appetite in this fixture, netting just three Premier League goals in 10 matches against City, the last of which came in his last Manchester derby to date in May 2009.
Ronaldo has scored one goal against City in another two competitions. One strike arrived in the 2003-04 season in the fifth round of the FA Cup, while the other was for Real Madrid in an entertaining 3-2 victory in September 2012.
The Portuguese has also recorded two Premier League assists and an FA Cup assist against United’s arch rivals.
Ronaldo has scored three top-flight goals against City, the latest coming in May 2009
Ronaldo has been part of United sides to take 19 points off City, having been on the winning side in six of the ten occasions.
And while every derby victory brings its own sweet taste, there may just yet be a tinge of relief imbued with that sweetness if Ronaldo makes it seven from 11 on Saturday.
Not only will he have possibly improved his goalscoring record against City, but it will once more lift the pressure on his Norwegian boss, who saw a three-man defence fail to cover all of United’s defensive weaknesses at Atalanta.
Yet Ronaldo is at the core of their strength at the other end of the pitch, and should that – along with the expert finishing of Cavani – come through on Saturday, it will raise spirits at Old Trafford to a level that have not been seen since his homecoming match against Newcastle.
His most recent goal against City came for Real Madrid in a 3-2 win in September 2012