Even with a European Cup winners' medal round his neck and a debt of gratitude to his penalty-taking team-mates that would humble other men, Cristiano Ronaldo was still acting the tiresome superstar on Wednesday night. With the Fifa World Player of the Year title surely on its way to him too, it can only be a matter of time before the fastest-growing ego in world football is in danger of expanding beyond all control this summer.
On a morning that has never looked sunnier for Manchester United, on a day when all of European football bows before them, the only cloud in the sky is Ronaldo's unending love affair with his bathroom mirror and the sweet nothings from Real Madrid turning his head. An expert on the delicate art of keeping his options open, the Portuguese winger was at it again after the game: "I never promise anything. I don't promise anything to my mum. I don't promise anything to the supporters. I want to stay, but the future no one knows."
Barely hours later, the Real president, Ramon Calderon, made the most outrageous, not to mention public, attempt to persuade Ronaldo to rebel against United. "The players play where they want," Calderon said. "If a player decides to leave he is unstoppable. Slavery was abolished a long time ago, nobody can prevent a player from moving. If the player [Ronaldo] is firm in his decision, there is no one who can hold him back. I have always said that if Manchester want to sell him we will ask about him, and if he wants to come we can pay what they ask."
In the absence of certainty, United will have to hope that Ronaldo listens to another man at their club whose experience of life at Real Madrid revealed it was not the paradise the 23-year-old clearly believes it to be. Carlos Queiroz spoke for the first time about how he had told his young compatriot that the grass is not necessarily greener in Spain at a club he managed for one chaotic season – 2003-04 – before being sacked.
Ferguson's assistant said that he had told Ronaldo of the dangers of joining a club that can be as political and unstable as Real. "I was at Real Madrid so I know what I am talking about it," he said. "Real Madrid is not like Manchester United. There are times there when you don't know who is in charge – whether it is the press or the club. It is not like England or some other countries, where the institutions are independent
"He [Ronaldo] and I have talked about this. You have to remember, this speculation about his future is coming from the right arm of Real Madrid – certain newspapers which we know all about. It is important for us and it is important for him because he knows we are the best club for him. He has made a fantastic development in the last five years. At 23, he is still young and he has a lot of things still to do at our club. And we think we have a lot of things to give him as well."
Even by his own standards of immodesty, Ronaldo was virtually unstoppable on Wednesday night – his missed penalty all but forgotten. Instead, the player who eschewed the team celebrations to weep dubious tears of happiness in the centre circle said that he could still get better. "Why do people want to speak about the penalty?" he said. "I scored a goal. I feel so happy now. My colleagues did a fantastic job. That is what happens, football is like a lottery. The whole thing can change on one kick. It means a lot to the lads and it means a lot to Bobby [Charlton]. I love him – he is a great guy."
Queiroz is the man who has given Ferguson an insight into European and South American players he previously lacked and when he explained how the United manager gave him the freedom to join Real Madrid – and then supported him through a disastrous season there – it is not hard to see why he is such an apostle for the Scot's creed
"I will never forget his words," Queiroz said. "He said to me, 'Go to Madrid. I'm happy for you because if you didn't make that decision I would be disappointed in you.' So I went to Real. He constantly supported me, but when things got difficult I will never forget how he came over, bought me lunch and a nice bottle of wine and said, 'You do what is best for your club but, if something is wrong, you always have a home at Manchester United'."
On Wednesday night the group of players assembled by Ferguson – with the possible exception of Ronaldo – sounded like they were ready for more. Rio Ferdinand said that their only regret now was not taking the FA Cup as well to make it, like 1999, another treble year. Nevertheless, as Ferguson has said already in the aftermath of victory, he will be looking into his players' eyes at the start of pre-season and deciding who among them is still hungry enough.
"That's what drives us on," Ferdinand said. "Come back again next year to the final. That's the aim. When you're at United, you can't sit still and rest on your laurels and I'm sure we won't be doing that. The manager sets high standards. We as a squad set high standards. Yes, we'll enjoy this, because we know these moments don't come around every year, but we'll be working as hard as anyone to try to make sure we get back here again.
"It's personal pride as well. And what you see here is young lads and experienced lads mixed together and the ones like Scholesy, Giggsy and Gary Neville have won back-to-back titles and if they can do it year in, year out, there's no reason why the rest of us can't."
It was one of that old guard, Ryan Giggs, the man with 10 Premier League and two Champions League medals who said that United could not afford to wait another nine years for their next European title. He said: "Maybe it's fate. It's 50 years since the Busby Babes died at Munich, 40 years from first winning it. That might be it – fate. In 1999 we had a bit of luck. We probably didn't have as much luck this time around, on our way there. But tactically we were good all the way through the competition and I think we deserved to be winners."Reuse content