Cristiano Ronaldo will be welcomed back to Old Trafford, five years after his departure from Manchester United to Real Madrid.
The Portuguese winger squares Argentina striker Lionel Messi for the first time in England since 2008 in a luxury international friendly on Tuesday night. Ronaldo was part of a United team who beat Messi’s Barcelona 1-0 in a Champions League semi-final return-leg for a 2-1 aggregate victory in 2008, same year the ‘Red Devils’ beat Chelsea to lift their third European Cup.
The two forwards are on the 23-man shortlist for the 2014 Fifa Ballon d’Or. The pair has dominated the award for the best male player in world football since 2008, with Ronaldo clinching his second last year, and Messi winner in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.
The Portuguese has been in superb form so far this season, with 23 goals in 17 matches in all competitions, but Argentina coach Gerardo Martino insists his heart “lies with Messi,” whom he also coached at FC Barcelona last season.
“You can’t take out of the deciding process I am Argentinian, my heart lies with Messi,” said Martino in his pre-match media conference on Monday.
Portugal defender Carvalho, who spent three years playing alongside Ronaldo at Real, hailed the 29-year-old as an “almost perfect” player.
“He is strong, good in the air, fit always,” Carvalho, who now plays for French club Monaco, said. “It is difficult to say what he is missing. He wants always more and more, even in training.
“I am a little bit biased, but he is the best. All of us expect him to win the Ballon d’Or. We are so proud of him.”
Messi, was named player of the tournament at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where Argentina lost narrowly to Germany in the final at the Maracana.
Martino added: “I am not the best person to judge, I cannot separate sentiment from my objective decision. Whatever season Messi has had on footballing grounds, I would still vote for him.
“I would vote for him on footballing terms. You can’t separate what he is like as a human from what he is as a player.”
United will reap from Di Maria signing
The 51-year-old tactician believes United will be rewarded for their £59.7m investment on Angel Di Maria in time.
Di Maria will be looking to bury his recent blip in form, as he is yet to score in four games for club. That notwithstanding, Gerardo Martino reckons the 26-year-old remains an asset for United.
“Angel is one of the top, top players in world football, but when you don’t understand the league, when you are not a total expert, it is hard to make an opinion,” Martino said.
“He can play a number of different roles expertly & adapt to anywhere the manager asks him to play.
“His start was exceptional. Generally when players get used to a new league, to a different style, to different teams. His form now is more typical of a player going to a club, as opposed to bursting into the team.”
The former Real Madrid midfielder will be at home if selected tonight. Manchester City quartet of goalkeeper Willy Caballero, centre-back Martin Demichelis, right-back Pablo Zabaleta and striker Sergio Aguero are also part of Martino’s squad.
Juventus forward Carlos Tevez will also return to the ‘Theater of Dream’ as part of the Argentina party.