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Cristiano Ronaldo gets ‘special dispensation’ ahead of Newcastle United match – What a surprise

2 weeks ago
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So it is confirmed: Cristiano Ronaldo will pull on his preferred number 7 shirt when he lines up against Newcastle for his Premier League return.

Despite the trepidation of our defence having to cope with a Ronaldo desperate to do well in front of the Old Trafford crowd, there’s a part of me that’s pleased to see him back.

He is, in my view, the world’s finest ever player.

For a long time I favoured Messi in the ‘Who’s the Greatest’ debate, but Ronaldo’s consistency despite his years, ability to be the best not just for one club but for several including three major leagues, and success on the international stage, sets him apart from the Argentine.

However, what I’m really struggling with, isn’t the inevitability he’ll score against us or the fear he’ll make Manchester United genuine title contenders again. No, the thing that really grates on me is why on earth the FA have granted “special dispensation” for him to get that number 7 shirt.

A small point you may think, but to me it hints at something much bigger and confirms what we already knew: those running our game are entirely in the hands of a tiny minority of clubs with the financial clout to bully their way into getting what they want.

Cast your mind back a couple of decades. Robert Lee was stripped of the captaincy and his squad number by Ruud Gullit. Coincidentally, Lee too had worn the number 7 shirt from the day he was recruited from Charlton, and I’m pretty sure he wore it for them too.

Roll on a little while, Gullit is gone and Sir Bobby has arrived. Lee is reinstated to the first team squad but, by now, Kieran Dyer is already in possession of the number 7 shirt.

Pretty extenuating circumstances, wouldn’t you say? A player cast onto the football scrapheap by one manager is given a new lease of life by another. Surely the decision to reverse not giving him a squad number goes hand in hand with giving him the one he’d had for years before?

But no. The FA rules didn’t permit it. Instead, Lee had to make to do with number 37, for the rest of that season anyway, something so strange that he even named his book after it.

So what, exactly, were the extenuating circumstances that made the FA decide Cristiano Ronaldo should be given “special dispensation” to have his shirt back? What was more important in his case than in that of Robert Lee?

Sure, it’s nice for the fans who’ll take something magical from that.

And it’s certainly nice for Ronaldo, who has built a very profitable venture on the CR7 brand and will no doubt reap further financial reward from its continuity during his return to the English game.

Manchester United will also be able to profit big time. I’ve no doubt they’d have cashed in on any Ronaldo merchandise, irrespective of the number he was given, but they’ll make even more now the fans have something they’ll consider to be iconic.

Extenuating circumstances, though? Really? If Ronaldo’s association with the number 7 shirt was that important to Manchester United, surely they’d have retired it when he left the first time, or at least shelved it pending his potential future return.

No, the real reason that the FA granted the special dispensation is because it was Manchester United that came asking. And if Manchester United come asking, just like with Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal or Chelsea, the FA stand up and pay attention (Sorry, Spurs, but I don’t buy into the media-hyped “Big Six” and you’re not quite there yet… but don’t worry you can take heart from the fact that any Englishman in a Spurs shirt gets into the England team by default. That’s another story for another day).

I digress.

Now of course while I’m accusing the FA of pandering to the wealthiest clubs, somebody somewhere will say: “What about the European Super League? They didn’t pander to them then”.

Well, no, they didn’t, but not because of any gumption or backbone on their part.

Make no mistake: the change of heart was not driven by the FA or UEFA, but by the power of social media and a few ex-footballers, such as Gary Neville, who to their credit made life very difficult for the football powerhouses.

And the positioning of the FA was because, to everyone’s surprise, the other 14 clubs actually said: “Fine go, we’ll continue without you” and Richard Masters and co didn’t have much choice in the matter.

Which brings us to Masters. It’s commonly believed by Newcastle fans that he personally ensured our own Saudi-financed takeover couldn’t go ahead following intervention from a few wealthy clubs who didn’t like the idea of a new kid on the block.

The court case(s) drags on, our misery continues and we can only hope that it won’t be too long until a resolution is reached in our favour. For once, we’re on Mike Ashley’s side in that particular battle.

Whether you believe the Masters story or not is up to you, but if you were just waiting for more evidence that the FA really was that susceptible to the demands of the biggest clubs, take note of the shirt number on the back of the Portuguese fella at Old Trafford next weekend.

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