Water the plants, cut the grass, sign Cristiano Ronaldo – it was quite the summer in Gary Lineker’s garden.
One of the most sensational transfers seen in the sport since the Portuguese star swapped Manchester United for Real Madrid for a then world-record fee over a decade ago, Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford was completed in Lineker’s back garden, according to the former England striker.
Match of the Day presenter Lineker revealed that he lives next-door to Manchester United’s chief executive Ed Woodward, who was at his house when the deal was negotiated.
“I’ll put my cards on the table, Ed Woodward’s a good friend of mine – he’s my neighbor. He signed Cristiano Ronaldo when he was in my garden,” Lineker said on Match of the Day’s Top 10 podcast.
“It was awesome. I knew when he walked in and he was on the phone to Mendes [Jorge Mendes, Ronaldo’s agent] or someone.
“I hope I haven’t given too much away here but he did sign him. I got a fantastic picture of him on the phone in the back garden which I might share one day with his permission.”
The dramatic developments of Ronaldo’s return were only amplified by the reported interest of United’s local rival Manchester City, but the five-time Ballon d’Or winner eventually signed a deal to rejoin the club he spent six years at between 2003 and 2009.
Ronaldo’s long-awaited homecoming followed the perfect script, scoring twice on his first game back at Old Trafford as United defeated Newcastle 4-1.
The 36-year-old has enjoyed a customarily productive start to the season – scoring again in victory at West Ham before adding two goals in two games in the Champions League, including a dramatic injury time winner against Villarreal.
However, Ronaldo’s assured return has contrasted to an altogether stuttering start for his side and former teammate-turned-manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Having played alongside the Norwegian during his first spell in Manchester, Ronaldo now finds himself tasked with helping to ease the pressure on Solskjaer following a string of poor results.
His Champions League debut, though marked with a goal, saw United fall to a shock 2-1 defeat to Swiss team Young Boys.
Ronaldo’s following rescue act against Villareal was sandwiched between two disappointing Old Trafford displays with defeat to Aston Villa and a draw against Everton, the latter of which saw Ronaldo named on the substitute’s bench.
Sir Alex Ferguson, the legendary former United coach of both Ronaldo and Solskjaer, said that Everton were given a boost “when they saw Ronaldo wasn’t playing,” adding that “you should always start with your best players.”
Asked if he regretted the decision, Solskjaer replied: “No. You make decisions throughout a long, long season, and you’ve got to manage the players’ workload.
“The decision was, for me, the correct one today.”
Having come on as a second-half substitute, Ronaldo cut a frustrated figure as he left the pitch at the end of the Everton draw, a result that saw United miss the chance to go level on points with leader Chelsea.
A tale of two signings
Concerns about the club’s mixed start to the campaign will only be heightened by a glance at the schedule for the winter months. United faces Leicester City, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal within its next seven Premier League matches.
Similarly, Ronaldo’s strong form has overshadowed a relatively disappointing start for fellow summer arrival Jadon Sancho.
Following a sparkling four-year spell in Germany with Borussia Dortmund, the English winger’s long-running transfer saga finally concluded with his move to United following Euro 2020.
Touted as the missing piece of the puzzle to solve the club’s problems at right wing, Sancho is yet to score in a United shirt.
However, an encouraging second-half cameo from Sancho against Everton was a silver lining of an altogether disappointing afternoon on Saturday; Solskjaer and United will be hoping the performance was a sign of things to come from a 21-year-old with undeniable ability.