Cristiano Ronaldo made his name at Manchester United, and returned for a victory lap in 2021. Remember some of his scene-stealing performances for the Red Devils.
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Cristiano Ronaldo parted company with Manchester United for a second time in the winter of 2022, but memories of his brilliance for the club in the UEFA Champions League will remain vivid.
From his long wait for a first goal in the group stage to his trademark header that set the Red Devils on their way to lifting the trophy in 2008, the Portuguese icon's journey was never dull. We take a look back at his top six United performances on the European stage.
Manchester United 7-1 Roma (quarter-final second leg, 10/04/07)
It is astonishing to think that a man with 140 Champions League goals (group stage to final) took 27 games to find the net for the first time. The breaking of that duck was timely – United had lost 2-1 to Roma in the first leg – and his ability to stand up and be counted in key matches began in this quarter-final decider.
Sir Alex Ferguson's side were already three up at Old Trafford but, at 4-2 on aggregate, not assured of a last-four place. Ronaldo changed all that either side of the break, drilling in his first from the edge of the area in the 44th minute then sliding in to convert Ryan Giggs' teasing cross shortly after the interval. The floodgates for the Red Devils and Ronaldo had been opened.
Sporting CP 0-1 Manchester United (group stage, 19/09/07)
Ronaldo's performance in a pre-season friendly for the Portuguese side against United in 2003 was so sensational that Ferguson's players implored their manager to sign the precocious talent immediately. He did – and it proved a masterstroke. The Red Devils' group stage opener in 2007 was Ronaldo's competitive return and, unsurprisingly, he took centre stage.
The hosts were arguably the better side for an hour, but then the man of the moment stepped up, meeting Wes Brown's cross with a diving header. Ronaldo refused to celebrate and gestured almost apologetically to the home fans, who responded by applauding when the goalscorer's name was announced. It was a fitting moment on a poignant evening.
Manchester United 1-1 Chelsea (final, 21/05/08)
The goal at Sporting was the first of seven Ronaldo bagged on the way to the 2007/08 final, making the then 23-year-old the top scorer in the competition that season. All that was missing was a Champions League winners' medal for the first time in his career, and United's talisman was not to be denied.
In the 26th minute of an even contest, Ronaldo darted in front of Michael Essien at the back post to majestically head in Brown's cross for his eighth of the campaign. Frank Lampard levelled and the showpiece went to penalties, where Petr Čech's save from Ronaldo appeared to be decisive before John Terry's miss. Four kicks later and the trophy was heading to Old Trafford.
Porto 0-1 Manchester United (quarter-final second leg, 15/04/09)
The holders' hopes of claiming back-to-back Champions League crowns hung in the balance after Porto snatched a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford in the dying moments, but, in their hour of need, you-know-who rose to the occasion once more.
There appeared little danger when Ronaldo picked up the ball centrally in the sixth minute, yet Helton could only grasp at thin air as the 35-metre strike, which was still rising when it hit the net, turned the tide. It was a goal worthy of winning any tie and proved pivotal in this one.
Arsenal 1-3 Manchester United (semi-final second leg, 05/05/09)
One round later and another second leg that could have gone either way after the Red Devils eked out a 1-0 victory in the first instalment at Old Trafford. Could Ronaldo make the difference again? Of course he could – and this time from even further out.
The iconic No7 had already laid on the opener for Park Ji-Sung when United were awarded a free-kick 40 metres out in the 11th minute. Arsenal formed a wall, even from such a distance, but Ronaldo simply hammered an unstoppable effort inside Manuel Almunia's near post. He thumped in the third just past the hour too, rounding off a stellar last Champions League performance in his first spell on English shores as a Red Devil.
Atalanta 2-2 Manchester United (group stage, 02/11/21)
The United that Ronaldo returned to in 2021 after a 12-year absence were not quite the force of the Sir Alex era, but the striker remained a world-class act. He scored in his first five group stage games of his second spell, including two in this Matchday 4 draw in Italy two weeks after scoring a late winner in a 3-2 home victory against the same opponents.
Ronaldo had pounced on Bruno Fernandes' back-heel to haul United back to 1-1 in first-half added time, but the Reds were headed for defeat until Ronaldo intervened again at the death, sending a low shot inside the goalkeeper's right-hand post from range. "Cristiano is just incredible," said his manager and former team-mate Ole Gunnar Solskjær. "If there's anyone you want the chance to fall to – and it was a difficult chance – [it's him]."