At last, he's gone. And perhaps it is fitting that the will-he-won't-he saga of Cristiano Ronaldo's on-off transfer to Real Madrid ultimately should have come down to supply-side economics. After all, the 24-year-old Portugese player was named after Ronald Reagan, that great proponent of market forces who once famously told the US electorate: "I am not worried about the deficit. It is big enough to take care of itself."
Whether anyone will worry about Real Madrid's balance sheet now that the club has shelled out £80 million (Dh483m) on its latest player is unclear. What is irrefutable is that Real Madrid's president, Florentino Pérez, has bagged the man he wants and is close to assembling the largest collection of Galacticos - the tag for Real's superstar signings - the world has ever seen. The Ronaldo deal follows close on the heels of the purchase of Kaka from AC Milan for what at the time - a mere three days - was a record fee of £59 million. Franck Ribery, the French midfielder currently with Bayern Munich, David Villa, the Valencia striker, and Liverpool's Xabi Alonso are also all on Pérez's shopping list.
The money paid for Ronaldo may make people gasp but no one should be surprised that he has signed for the Spanish giants, despite only 48 hours earlier telling a Portuguese newspaper that he wanted to stay at Manchester United. Deception is his stock in trade, whether it be legitimately tricking a defender into going one way while he dances off in another, or illegitimately crashing to the ground in the hope of tricking the referee into awarding a penalty.
Add into the mix his dalliances with models and B-list actresses, his breathtaking free kicks, his sulks, his step-overs, his electric pace, his little-boy-lost demeanour one moment, his arrogance the next, and you end up with a complex, high-maintenance character whom Sir Alex Ferguson would have offloaded a long time ago had Ronaldo not been such a prolific goal scorer. Indeed his unerring footwork helped United win the English Premier League three times, the Champions League once, the FA Cup once and the Carling Cup twice.
But for all that success, huge numbers of Manchester United supporters are saying "good riddance". Messages posted on the club's website confirm that some diehard season ticket holders are happy to see the back of him, especially when reminded that the club will be making an approximate £68 million profit on the player signed from Sporting Lisbon in 2003 for £12 million. Good riddance and good business. United fans have loved Ronaldo as much as they could but their affection never quite matched the love he had for himself, while, elsewhere in England, he will never be forgiven for the self-satisfied wink he gave during the 2006 World Cup quarter finals on knowing his efforts to have Wayne Rooney red-carded had paid off.
Ronaldo is a signed-up member of the Grown Men Will Cry movement but it has not always been easy to share his pain. The tears that trickled down his cheeks as he picked up third place in the 2007 Fifa World Player of the Year award behind Kaka and Lionel Messi didn't endear him to the watching public and there might have been more sympathy for him following Manchester United's Champions League final defeat to Barcelona last month had he not immediately started blaming Sir Alex Ferguson for getting the tactics wrong.
"He's been playing up for the past two seasons and, for all his ability, he has excluded himself from becoming one of the Manchester United greats, alongside men such as Best, Law, Charlton, Robson, Giggs," says Jeff Powell, a sport columnist with Britain's Daily Mail. "By leaving now, he is not so much a work in progress but work unfinished." But it's nice work if you can get it. Rolando is expected to sign a six-year contract and will pick up around £225,000 a week - and as a foreign resident, he will pay only 23 per cent in tax.
He will be under pressure to deliver trophies but he will also be one of several trophies taken around the world to swell Real Madrid's coffers. Three years ago, when Zinedine Zidane and David Beckham were the star turns, the club earned £9 million simply from playing two exhibition matches in Japan. It is estimated that the joint merchandising sales and sponsorship revenue from Ronaldo and Kaka will amount to £106 million in the first season.
For Ronaldo it's not exactly a rags-to-riches tale. Indeed, it would be disingenuous to explain the chinks in his personality by dredging up stories of an impoverished childhood. His family was not rich but nor was it especially deprived. He was born in Madeira, the Portuguese island that lies 500 miles to the west of Morocco in the Atlantic. His parents, Jose Dinis, a gardener, and Maria Dolores, a cook, lived in a bungalow that was so small they kept the washing machine on the roof.
He has three much older siblings and his parents separated while he was still at school. In 2005, his father died of a drink-related illness. It was Jose Mourinho, the former FCPorto and Chelsea manager, who described Ronaldo as "ill-educated", but from all reports he was a diligent student, certainly until the age of 11 when he was offered a place at Sporting Lisbon's academy. He was on his way to stardom but it wasn't a happy time.
He missed home and was ridiculed for his strong regional accent. At one point, he begged his mother to take him away. She didn't. Instead, Ronaldo developed a resilience that has served him well in subsequent years. He may be precious and obsessed with his appearance - he shaves his chest and is thought to shave his legs as well - but he also knows how to look after himself. After the 2006 World Cup, Britain's Sun newspaper superimposed his face on to a darts board and invited readers to take aim.
It was thought he might be driven out of Britain but he stayed and ended up scoring 23 goals for Manchester United, picking up the Footballer of the Year award in the process. "Ronaldo is better than George Best and Denis Law," says Johan Cruyff, the former Dutch captain. While Luis Figo, the former Spanish captain, says: "Had I been born with Ronaldo's talent, I wouldn't have had to work as hard as I did." But Ronaldo has worked hard. When he arrived at Old Trafford he was a scrawny teenager who many thought would be barged off the ball in the rough and tumble of the Premiership.
But he built up his muscles and gave as much as he got. Along the way, he built up something approaching a father-son relationship with Ferguson - but it didn't last. Cracks started to show at the end of the 2007-08 season when Ronaldo encouraged speculation about his future and openly admitted that he always dreamed of playing for Real Madrid. Twelve months later and the dream is on. Ronaldo is expected to play just ahead of Kaka in what could be one of the most devastating partnerships of all time. Ronaldo and Kaka. Chalk and cheese. And it's not hard to see who will cause the new Real coach more sleepless nights.
Asked to name his favourite book, Kaka replies: "The Bible." Asked to name his favourite drink. Kaka replies: "Water." Asked to name his favourite music, Kaka replies: "Gospel." Ronaldo? Somehow, the Bible, water and gospel music don't seem to loom large on his radar. But he might want to tell you about his Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano. He crashed it near Manchester Airport in January - and before assessing the damage he had bought another one.
Ronaldo's career is now in full throttle. He will either go on to become the undisputed greatest player in the world - or crash spectacularly. Either way, it promises to be a thrilling ride. * The National