Cristiano Ronaldo.

Things can change so quickly in football

Sunday 29 May 2022 07:00

At the start of last season, I went to pick my son up from his football training and dreaded telling him the news that Cristiano Ronaldo was on his way to Manchester City, or so a respected Portuguese journalist had just revealed with the story going global.

I can only describe the feeling in the pit of my stomach as being similar to when a pet dies. I was sad and could not hide this disappointment.

The following day, I was publishing our official statement confirming Ronny was, in fact, coming home to United and, not only would my son get to see him play when attending a game at Old Trafford for the first time, he also then saw him score a hat-trick in his second outing to the Theatre of Dreams.

My point here is: a day can be a long time in football.

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I'm not quite sure why it came to mind but I worked out the other day that the start of next season means I will have watched more football post-Millennium than in the last century, which I am struggling to accept.

After all, I am someone who saw a teenaged Diego Maradona play, against England at Wembley. I remember United making our first foreign signing (Nikola Jovanovic), Norman Whiteside breaking through, Bryan Robson becoming the world's best midfielder (in my eyes) and a couple of quite brilliant FA Cup successes. Yet I associate my youth with having to deal with Liverpool dominating while our long wait for a league title continued throughout the 1980s, so it felt like a long road to the glory we would eventually enjoy.

Of course, an event around the same time as the turn of the Millennium that was even bigger for Reds supporters was our Treble triumph in 1999. Videos and photos from that unforgettable night in Barcelona were flooding social media this week and every time I see the goals, I get goosebumps in a physical reaction to the sheer excitement and drama of being part of the Nou Camp crowd.

As I tried to soak it all in, while David May led the celebrations in front of us, it came to my attention that a young fan to my side was unable to see as his father joined in the applause. I stepped down from my seat to allow him a better vantage point and a feeling came over me that this was the culmination of so much striving, so much yearning for European glory, that had started since before I was born and the historic win in 1968.

I was just elated to be there to witness it and there was an enormous sense of fulfilment and coming to the end of a long journey.

So it seems incredible to think I'll soon have watched more football since that magical memory than before it took place.

Media and Communications staff recently played the press before more matches involving United employees.

A new era is beginning at United and much has been made of the gap between the Reds' performance in 2021/22 and the two clubs at the top - Manchester City and Liverpool.

While there is an acknowledgement that the job facing Erik ten Hag is a huge one, and will certainly take time, I have seen how things can change in the world of football. And the early signs appear positive, particularly in the way the Dutchman embraced the idea of greeting the staff when being unveiled as our new boss. For me, such gestures mean an awful lot. 

One former manager admitted he could never mimic Sir Alex Ferguson's ability to know all of the staff by name, and understandably so, but reaching out after a difficult campaign felt a surefire way of galvanising and uniting those who work so hard to deliver success for the club off the pitch.

United have also provided memories for life for a number of staff who managed to play at Old Trafford during the recent pitch days. Looking at so many smiling faces on social media around the time of the games, it was clear how much it meant to people and it was an exceptional effort from those involved to allow such a high number of employees to enjoy the experience after the pandemic.

Cristiano Ronaldo's free-kick strike against Norwich was a reward for optimism!

Of course, such things may seem trivial but it feels like a good way to usher in the new era. It is hard seeing people leave, colleagues and players, and this never gets any easier.

For instance, I'll always remember Nemanja Matic's sincere welcome before the friendly at Derby County, a first game back for us in the media team in terms of covering matches closely again after so many being played out behind closed doors. Yet time moves on. Fast. I'm sure I speak for most people when I say it already feels the break should end and let's start looking ahead to the start of the Ten Hag reign.

The supporters have certainly been magnificent too. Packing the Theatre of Dreams out for the FA Youth Cup final victory and Legends of the North game and then ensuring season-tickets are already sold out for 2022/23.

There is every reason for optimism, to hope the Dutchman's arrival can herald a new, exciting chapter in our history. As a side-note, my son insisted I get my phone out as Ronaldo prepared to take his free-kick against Norwich City, pre-empting there would be a celebration I'd need to record. My initial thoughts were he's not scored a set-piece for a while, I never want to jinx these things and, first and foremost, I hate the idea of filming action from the crowd.

But, of course, I did it, for him. He's got the sort of optimism I need to embrace, and am embracing, as we count down to next season.

The opinions in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Manchester United Football Club.