The mechanics of the transfer market are mysterious, arcane, and often puzzling, and the language does very little to help. Is all this swooping dangerous? Is there actually a war chest? And is there actually a real, literal, transfer list?
From a Manchester United point of view, we can answer the last one: there is a list. José Mourinho had it up until a few months ago, when he gave it to Ed Woodward. We know this because he told us:
Ed Woodward has my list, what I want, what I would like for more than two months. So now it's up to him and the owners.
Now, given the developments of the last few days, the big question is this: do we think Cristiano Ronaldo's name was on that list?
This particular aspect of tBB is guessing not. Partly because of the consistent suggestions that Mourinho and Ronaldo don't get on particularly well, after the former's acrimonious departure from Real Madrid. But mostly because Ronaldo has, up until now, sounded perfectly happy to remain where he is, racking up goals, adulation, and Ballons d'Or. Why, just last season he signed a squillion-pounds-a-week contract and announced that he would retire at Madrid at some point beyond the age of 40.
That was before he had his collar felt by the taxman. Now he hates Spain, hates Madrid, and will not tidy his bedroom. Let's agree, for the sake of argument, that United signing Ronaldo would be A Good Thing in terms of the football. Even though he's 32, even though he's occasionally a bit of a pillock. This team needs a goalscorer, and he's still one of the best there's ever been.
But we have to assume that there's at least a decent chance — possibly an overwhelming one — that United will not sign Ronaldo. This could all be just another attempt to squeeze yet more money from Madrid's accountants. Perhaps some salve can be found for his wounded pride. Or maybe he'll decide that Paris is quite a nice place to live. And he is, at this moment, contracted to Real Madrid, and however heartfelt his unhappiness, that's a tricky thing to untangle.
So the question becomes: what would be the consequences of trying, and failing, to do so? Circumstances are different this time around, but the last time United made a serious attempt to bring Ronaldo home, in 2013, David Moyes ended the transfer window with his arm around Marouane Fellaini. Whether one directly begat the other is a matter for the historians, but it's hard to avoid the impression that United spent all of that summer chasing the unreachable, before being forced to settle for the inadequate. (Sorry, Marouane.)
Could the same happen again? One of the differences between then and now is the players that United need. Back then, United were chasing Ronaldo because he was Ronaldo: you buy him, if you think you can, and you stick him into a title-winning squad with Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, and then you work out what to do with him. But now, United need a goalscorer. Indeed, United have been busily beavering away at the issue for a while now, and may even have agreed personal terms with another Real Madrid player, Álvaro Morata.
So, would this be Ronaldo as well as Morata, or one of the other alternatives? Would Morata want to leave Madrid if Ronaldo goes, and a first-team spot opens up? Would any other striker want to come and play second fiddle? Yes, United have a lot of money — those tractors are just flying off the shelves — but that would be a splurge of volcanic proportions.
We don't know for sure if the names in the press match those that Woodward has been given, but if they do, then we're talking about Morata, Romelu Lukaku, Andrea Belotti, and various others. These are players that are being targeted to start up front for Manchester United. And if the idea of getting them to come and play with Ronaldo seems a little unlikely, then you have to wonder how returning to them later in the summer, after a failed bid for Ronaldo, would go down with them. Or with their agents.
"Sorry, he's already signed for Chelsea."
"Sorry, he's decided to wait for Juventus."
"Sorry, new phone, who is this?"
Then there's the question of style to consider. The two attacking players United have been most heavily linked with are Morata and Ivan Perišić of Internazionale. Both are very Mourinho-ish in style: they work hard, and they cover the pitch. This isn't quite true of Ronaldo, and though he's certainly not as statuesque as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, he's unlikely to spend as much time working the channels as Morata would. He might be better, in general terms. He'd likely score more goals. But he's certainly not a like-for-like upgrade.
So chasing Ronaldo would mean all the other forwards knowing that they were, at best, second choice. It would mean the club abandoning their manager's ideas on how to shape the team. And if the wild speculation about a cash-plus-David de Gea deal has any truth in it, it might also mean effectively telling one of the best goalkeepers in the world that he can go. To do all that, and then fall short, would be messy, embarrassing, and potentially disastrous. We don't know who the striking equivalent of Marouane Fellaini is, but we're not ever so keen on finding out. (Sorry again, Marouane.)
Does this mean United shouldn't go for it, if they think they've got a shot? Well … maybe. The thought of Ronaldo back in red is a tempting one for all sorts of reason, pragmatic as well as sentimental. It's almost impossible to imagine him not scoring, bar injury. But if United are to get it done, then Woodward will be needing a massive warchest. And he'll be swooping from a very great height indeed. There's always the danger he'll end up flat on his face.