Around three hours before Cristiano Ronaldo sealed a dramatic return to Manchester United on Friday (Aug 28), Pep Guardiola was voicing a theory.
Manchester City were the favourites to sign the Portuguese but the great players, Guardiola insisted, chose the clubs, not vice-versa. Lionel Messi, he argued, had picked Paris Saint-Germain. Ronaldo, he said, was in the same bracket.
So the Portuguese soon proved. He went back to Old Trafford.
Perhaps Guardiola was getting his excuses in early. Failing to get Ronaldo, however, is less of a blow to City than missing out on Harry Kane.
Ronaldo was not a long-term target, but someone they talked to after realising Kane was staying at Spurs. The Tottenham man made his decision only on Wednesday.
United had dreamt of Ronaldo for years: All 12 since he left for Real Madrid.
City were reluctant to pay Juventus a fee. United were not. They embarked on more of a public relations offensive. Ronaldo’s Portugal team-mate Bruno Fernandes called him. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer called him the greatest player of all time.
Meanwhile, Guardiola pondered the merits of Gabriel Jesus. “I don’t like it when a player doesn’t run,” he said. “They have to convince me why.”
The Brazilian never stops running. Ronaldo went unmentioned but he barely moves these days. He would not have suited City’s pressing game.
United were willing to accept the trade-off a player who has scored more goals – 783 – than anyone else in the history of football. He has a symbolic value to them and seeing Ronaldo in City blue would have hurt.
But beyond the emotional element, perhaps Solskjaer’s football needs a specialist finisher more. Ronaldo can come alive on the counter-attack, already a key part of United’s game plan, while he is the penalty-box poacher par excellence. He will have pace, creators and risk-takers around him, a combination he should like.
United had not bid for Kane. They had prioritised a right winger, in Jadon Sancho, and a centre-back, in Raphael Varane, and had limited transfer funds left.
The striking role seemed set to be shared between Anthony Martial, Edinson Cavani and Mason Greenwood. Each may slip down the pecking order now.
City felt Ronaldo is at his best when he is the main man at a club. He would not have been at the Etihad Stadium. He will be at Old Trafford, even factoring in Fernandes and Paul Pogba.
City can take encouragement from the travails of Alexis Sanchez, the last player United signed from under City’s noses. The Chilean was a disastrous failure, a declining force in Ronaldo’s old No. 7 shirt.
Yet the alternative scenario is that United have strengthened by getting Serie A’s top scorer last season and, in a surreal day, have weakened their rivals.
Sergio Aguero is gone and has not been replaced. The dynamics in the squad have shifted more towards midfielders with Jack Grealish the only major arrival.
City have many a passer but few prolific finishers. Ronaldo threatens to shift the balance of power in the area back towards United.
When City hired Carlos Tevez from United in 2009, they put up posters declaring: “Welcome to Manchester.”
Twelve years on, United might be tempted to borrow the slogan.