It is a measure of the progress Manchester United have made this summer that they kick off their Champions League campaign in Switzerland on Tuesday evening with two players who have won the league four times each with Real Madrid.
Of all the attributes Cristiano Ronaldo and Raphael Varane bring to United, none is greater than a stellar European pedigree that saw them win the cherished La Decima – Madrid’s 10th win in the European Cup – followed by three more Champions Leagues in the four seasons that followed.
Add to that five UEFA Super Cups and eight FIFA Club World Cups, and you get an idea of the kind of European experience United have gained from their £62.8m investment.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer praised the arrival of Raphael Varane (left) and Cristiano Ronaldo (center)
Real Madrid’s former team-mates moved to Old Trafford for nearly £60million this summer
Not quite the final pieces of the puzzle, as manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer suggested before correcting himself, but certainly two players who could make United serious contenders.
They will be helped by playing in a relatively easy Group F, made up of Swiss champions Young Boys, Atalanta and Villarreal.
“We get the backbone of the team and you can see the experience and quality,” said Solskjaer.
“Of course, now that Raphael and Cristiano come in, they’re adding the latter… not the latter, you can never say it’s the latter. It’s something extra we have to buy unless you win it yourself four times.
Solskjaer claims United’s backbone has improved during the transfer market
“That was always the plan when I came in, that we had to challenge a team with experience and quality. The atmosphere is really good and we will certainly come in handy there.’
When Ronaldo plays in Switzerland, he will equal former Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas’ record of 177 Champions League appearances.
“It’s great to have Cristiano back home,” Solskjaer said. “The impact was visible on the first day we played, with two very important goals for us.
“You know the qualities, Cristiano’s experience is great. It’s huge for us. He’s a legend here and it’s great to have him back.”
Ronaldo (right) prepares this week for his second game in his second stint with Young Boys
Following the uproar and acclaim of his homecoming to Old Trafford against Newcastle on Saturday, Ronaldo is expected to make his second appearance since returning from Juventus to United in the more sterile environment of the 22,000-seat Wankdorf Stadium and its synthetic turf pitch.
His impact on the club was such that fourth-choice goalkeeper Lee Grant went so far as to claim that none of the players dared to eat dessert during Friday’s pre-match meal for fear of offending their super-fit team-mate.
“There was some apple crumble and custard or a little brownie and cream,” Grant told talkSPORT.
“It just broke my heart how no player dared to stand up and eat the junk food that was on display.”
Solskjaer dismissed that story on Tuesday, but praised Ronaldo for keeping himself in such good shape at the age of 36.
The 36-year-old gets out on the grounds of Stadion Wankdorf with a capacity of 22,000 on the Swiss side
“Obviously that’s a joke from Granty in a setting with some friends and ex-players,” the United boss added. “It’s not like we were associated with junk food before Cristiano came and he changed everything.
“He has proven over the years how to take care of himself. He is an example for other players to extend your career. It’s the best time of your life, so stay in the game as long as you can. Be professional. When you’re ready, you can let go like I’ve done now!’
On Tuesday, there was speculation that the bullish mood at Old Trafford following the arrival of Ronaldo, Varane and Jadon Sancho could convince Paul Pogba to sign a new contract before his current contract expires in June. Solskjaer is clearly hopeful that Pogba wants to be part of a bright future.
Solskjaer hopes to tie Paul Pogba (left) to a new contract as his deal nears its end
“Now it’s up to us to get results and prove to ourselves that we can win trophies,” the United manager said.
“Everyone wants to be part of a winning Man United, that’s the most magical feeling in the world.
“Everyone just focuses on doing our best and showing where we’re going.”
Former Scotland defender Gary Caldwell joins Premier League champions Manchester City as loan team coach.
The 39-year-old, who previously managed Wigan, Chesterfield and Partick Thistle, was recently in charge of Newcastle United Under 23s on an interim basis, but left after just three weeks.