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Cristiano Ronaldo is officially heading back to Manchester United after a staggering 24 hours of twists and turns in an unparalleled transfer saga.
"Manchester United is delighted to confirm that the club has reached agreement with Juventus for the transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo, subject to agreement of personal terms, visa and medical," the club said in a statement shortly before 5 p.m. local time on Friday.
Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri had confirmed earlier on Friday that Ronaldo wanted to leave the Italian club, and Ronaldo boarded a private plane in Turin as his agent and multiple clubs negotiated over his future.
Manchester City had been his presumed destination as of Friday morning, with multiple reports suggesting a deal between Ronaldo, Juventus and the reigning Premier League champion was nearing completion.
But on Thursday night into Friday morning, a new suitor joined the fray. Mere hours after City was considered a clear frontrunner, negotiations between Ronaldo and City's fiercest rival, Manchester United, heated up.
United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer told reporters at a news conference that United had "had a bit of communication" with Ronaldo. Fabrizio Romano reported that United had contact with Ronaldo's agent, Jorge Mendes, and was "seriously interested" in reuniting with the 36-year-old Portuguese star.
“I didn’t think Cristiano would leave Juventus,” Solskjaer said. “If he ever wants to move away from Juventus, he knows we are here."
“For me he is the greatest player of all time," Solskjaer continued. "We have had a bit of communication and I know [United midfielder] Bruno [Fernandes] has been talking to him as well. There’s been a lot of speculation the last few days.
“Let’s see what happens with Cristiano, he’s a legend of this club. I played with him and coached him. He’s a tremendous human being. Let’s see what happens with Cristiano.”
As Solskjaer was giving his regularly scheduled news conference, across town, Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola was giving his. And Guardiola was more coy, saying that "there are many things that are far away."
“All I can say is, with three or four days left [in the transfer window], everything can happen," he said. "But in my personal view there are few players — Ronaldo included — where they decide where they’re going to play."
Guardiola said he was "delighted with the squad we have and we will stay the same.” He later said that “Cristiano will decide where he wants to play, not Manchester City, not myself.”
Shortly thereafter, widespread reports suggested that City had backed out of negotiations; that it had "considered the possibility" of signing Ronaldo "but decided against it."
Negotiations between Ronaldo and United then progressed rapidly. Romano reported that the United board of directors was in discussions about the transfer fee and salary required to bring Ronaldo back to Old Trafford. Ronaldo reportedly spoke with Sir Alex Ferguson, his manager at United from 2003-2009, on Friday morning, and reportedly exchanged texts with former United teammates Thursday night. An official contract offer was reportedly prepared.
United then turned its attention to Juventus, and reportedly submitted an official bid of 15 million euros ($17.7 million) plus 8 million ($9.4 million) in add-ons. The terms of the transfer to which the clubs ultimately agreed weren't disclosed, but the final fee will reportedly be at least $23.5 million.
United's official statement said the deal was still "subject to agreement of personal terms," but that's a foregone conclusion. Ronaldo has reportedly accepted United's offer of a two-year contract worth more than $30 million per season — slightly less guaranteed money than he was making at Juventus. He is heading back to the club where he scored 118 goals and won seven major trophies over six seasons earlier in his career.
United had tried, at various points since Ronaldo left for Real Madrid in 2009, to re-sign its former star. But earlier this offseason, it reportedly chose not to pursue Ronaldo, and instead focused on more sensible deals for younger players in positions of need. It signed center back Raphael Varane from Real Madrid, and winger Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund.
Throughout August, though, it became increasingly clear that Ronaldo was available. He had one year left on his contract at Juventus. Talks over an extension had not progressed. Reports suggested he wanted to leave Juventus immediately, rather than play out his contract, and rumors linked him with several of the world's top clubs. Ronaldo blasted those "disrespectful" transfer rumors in an Instagram post, but didn't. commit to Juve. And just a week later, he was reportedly telling teammates that he'd be leaving the club.
And as it became clear that he'd leave, Man City emerged as the only apparent suitor. And the purported marriage seemed to make sense. City, one of only a few clubs that could afford Ronaldo, needed a striker. Ronaldo wanted trophies. Both wanted to take aim at the Champions League, which Ronaldo has won five times, and which City has never won. Reports as recently as Friday morning suggested that Ronaldo and City had agreed to terms on a contract, and that the deal was on.
But then it was off. And United was the frontrunner. Roughly two-and-a-half hours later, and 24 hours after United was completely out of the picture, the Red Devils announced the reunion, with two simple words that capped arguably the wildest saga of definitely the wildest transfer window ever.