x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The Real cost for Ronaldo

Madrid's Champions League exit will hurt the world's most expensive player when it comes to individual honours.

Ronaldo scored for Real Madrid on Wednesday but they were held 1-1 by Lyon in the Bernabeu and exited the Champions League.
Ronaldo scored for Real Madrid on Wednesday but they were held 1-1 by Lyon in the Bernabeu and exited the Champions League.

Cristiano Ronaldo will be devastated. He went to Real Madrid with dreams of winning the European Cup. He was part of a grand plan, the most costliest signing in the most expensive team ever assembled. And now, after losing to a very good Lyon side who adopted the perfect game plan, he'll be sitting at home watching his former Manchester United teammates progress through the competition. The team will always come first for Ronaldo, but footballers don't win the individual awards like he did in 2008 playing for teams who get knocked out of the Champions League at the last 16 stage.

It is the sixth consecutive season that the mighty Real Madrid have failed to get past that stage. Maybe the media who are slaughtering the coach at the moment should take a look at themselves and realise that changing the manager eight times in five years is not good for the stability of the club. Maybe they should look at English clubs who give their coaches more than five minutes in charge and usually reap the benefits.

I was at Old Trafford on Wednesday night for another magical evening in European competition. My enthusiasm and respect for the way United, and especially Wayne Rooney, performed was only matched by disappointment at AC Milan. They may not be the force they were, but Milan still have top quality players. They needed to score a goal, but they were so timid. I sat with my former teammate Denis Irwin and neither of us could believe how much space the Milan defenders gave Rooney for his first goal.

So United march on alongside Arsenal. Maybe Chelsea will follow next week, again confirming the dominance of English clubs in the latter stages of the Champions League. One reason I think they do so well is because of the strength of the Premier League. In a league where Burnley can beat Manchester United, competition is fierce. Compare that with Spain's Primera Liga, where Real and Barca win every week and do not face the same challenges.

I know Barca are the European Cup holders and an exceptional side, but a stronger domestic league would be good for Spanish football. Arsenal impressed me immens-ely against Porto and my estimation of Arsene Wenger is at an all- time high. He has a fraction of the money that Carlo Ancelotti, Rafa Benitez, Sir Alex Ferguson and Roberto Mancini have, yet his side are still in contention for the Premier League and are still in Europe.

Arsenal play great football and Wenger continues to pluck players few people had heard of and turn them into big stars. Had you heard of Thomas Vermaelen a year ago? Wenger gives young players a chance and stays true to the Arsenal tradition of developing emerging talent. That reputation was what made me choose to go to Arsenal over Sheffield Wednesday, Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest and Celtic when I was a kid.

Highbury, those historic marble halls, Double winners, great football tradition, so many trophies and all that business. Couldn't fail, could I? Arsenal just had to be the place for a confident boy like me with special young players like David Rocastle, Kevin Campbell, Paul Davies and Michael Thomas. You only had to look at the teamsheet to see that Arsenal was the place where footballers were made, not born.

It was the place where superkids were granted early first-team opportunities. That was priority number one for me. The other was that there were a lot of black players excelling there. There was one big problem why I only played twice for Arsenal: George Graham, the manager. Or Gorgeous George as I called him. He didn't like me and I didn't like him. I was young and so determined to become a top player that I didn't want anything to get in my way, not least a manager who wouldn't give me chances when I thought I deserved them. Maybe my self-assured nature came across as arrogant, but I was desperate to prove myself.

George pulled me into his office one day and said: "You think you're the bees' knees don't you?" I was 15, but I wasn't having him talking to me like that and came back with: "No. And I'm not having you tell me what I am." Gorgeous George just shouted, "Out!" and pointed to the door. Their problem was that they knew I had something and could play. I only wish Arsene Wenger would have been manager when I went there, someone to shape me and encourage me rather than be confrontational. As it was, I went on loan to Fulham and then Arsenal sold me to Bristol City. I did have plenty of chances to play at Highbury - usually slotting goals in for Manchester United, with Arsenal fans hopefully wondering why a kid who loved their club so much was ever allowed to leave.

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