The career of Cristiano Ronaldo has been a beacon of inspiration, much beyond matters of the football pitch. Its sheer longevity, relentless adherence to high standards and its unwavering commitment in rising to huge expectations are massive narratives in themselves.
However, his recent move back to his old club, Manchester United, throws up some interesting other lessons. This return presents insights into how one can embark on a second stint at a previous workplace. Done the right way, one can score some glorious goals along the way, in true Ronaldo style.
1. Leave on a high note
Ronaldo’s departure from Old Trafford, the first time around, was in the summer of 2009, when he moved to Real Madrid. This was something he had indicated as a dream destination a while back, and so it came as no surprise. In fact, his deeds over the previous six years at United had transformed the Club, which had begun to linger in the shadow of Arsenal and Chelsea when he had joined. He played a major part in making them English Champions multiple times, and the Champions of Europe in 2008. As per the terms Ronaldo had agreed upon with Real Madrid, he should have exited United a year earlier. However, perhaps to make the transition smoother, he chose to give one more year to United. He left with the blessings of his Club, especially its legendary manager and his mentor, Sir Alex Ferguson.
Transition in the early years of a career is perhaps inevitable. Many young minds even see it as a part of their career development. The urge to try out one’s skills in different environments is understandable. It challenges and hones one’s talents. But what’s important is to give one’s all, to wherever one is at a particular time. Have one’s eyes and mind firmly fixed on the present — as most spiritual wisdom would concur; even if an enticing future beckons. While that reassures the new suitors that their decision was right, even more importantly, this attitude also shows those who first kindled one’s career, that this person really values their place, even when leaving is imminent. It always keeps the doors open for the future.
2. Exceed expectations at the next place
If CR7’s United career was great, his stint at Real Madrid was in the realms of fantasy. He broke through as a goal-scoring player, the likes of whom had seldom been seen before. Year on year, his tally of goals was astounding. He, along with his great rival Lionel Messi, perhaps redirected the conversation in football around the acquisition and nurturing of prized individual assets. At Real Madrid, he won a staggering four Champions League trophies — truly mind boggling! Then, he left to sample the Italian league at Juventus; but the quality and benchmarks set by his play never wavered. It is interesting to speculate, whether the fact that he would always be welcome back at United, actually made him soar higher at the newer places he went to.
There is always great merit in leaving a place on such a great note that the doors always will remain open for one. The perception of there being a safety net, if things go wrong, frequently powers one to perform better. And usually, when that happens, performance does go up despite the steep expectations. The feeling that one will always be dearly and assuredly wanted somewhere, often fuels higher flight. As Bette Midler sang, it can be ‘the wind beneath the wings.’ It can catapult one high above, to head home some truly spectacular achievements.
3.Never lose touch
Ronaldo may have left Old Trafford in 2009, but he has always managed to linger in its consciousness. Perhaps, United, never being the same force, as when he was there, contributed to nostalgic memories in the supporters of the Club. But he also did his bit. He always spoke warmly both of his stint there, his Club, and his past boss whenever interviewed. He stayed in touch with his United fans on social media. Add to that, his very visible demonstrations of not celebrating the goals he scored for Real Madrid and Juventus against Manchester United, kept the fans and the club very much on his side.
Many people seem to think, when they leave an organisation, there’s absolutely no need to look behind. In fact, they revel in speaking ill of it. That can never lead to good things. However, glancing back fondly, dwelling on what one learned there, and maintaining relationships with those teachers and mentors, who set one on their way is a good strategy when it comes to conduct. It keeps one aware and grounded about what one’s journey has been. It also helps in further ventures, because eventually everything boils down to the networks one has nurtured — from new projects, to trying to recruit people, to seeking new opportunities, these are the human investments which will help. Knowing and appreciating where the roots of one’s growth were laid, can get the tree of one’s career spring up to truly great heights.
4. Return a different person
There is a beautiful quote by the famous poet T.S. Elliot, “we must never cease from exploration, and the point of all that exploration, is to return to the place whence we started, yet know that place for the very first time”. This applies so much to Ronaldo’s return to the home of the Red Devils. He joined a shy, young teenager, and while he undoubtedly left a great man, he returns as one of the true legends in sport. That shift in reality will inform both how the Club looks at him, and how he perceives what his own contributions should be. Twelve long years have passed, and a sparkling career has been built. This could just be the icing on the cake.
Returning to the same place, on the same terms, and at the same stature probably makes no sense at all. That perhaps negates an entire journey. If one’s career has blossomed after leaving, that should always play a part when one returns. The scales can, and should have, also tipped in favour of the employee. The organisation should be looking to milk the wealth of experience and expertise that has been acquired. It should be seeking to use the returning person as a huge source of inspiration and wisdom. The employee should also be using this revisit to try and close the loop on his own story, to endeavour to bring things full circle. In any case, all this points towards interesting times ahead, for both parties concerned.
To conclude, it is too early to infer if Ronaldo’s return has been a successful one. Though the initial signs have been more than promising, he has already essayed an interesting story in coming back — one of the ‘prodigal son’ returning. And such unfolding epics should always appropriate our attention, more so when they teach us valuable lessons relevant to the corporate world.
The writer, Vinay Kanchan is an author, brand storyteller and innovation catalyst. His books include ‘Sportivity’, ‘Lessons from the Playground’ &’The Madness Starts at 9’.