Cristiano Ronaldo’s decision to leave Real Madrid for Juventus over the summer stunned Bryan Robson, with the Manchester United legend expecting the Portuguese to retire at the Santiago Bernabeu or Old Trafford.
A return to English football could still be made by the five-time Ballon d’Or winner, but he is now 33 years of age and tied to a four-year contract in Turin.
Such a switch now appears unlikely, with Ronaldo expected to head for America or Asia if another challenge is taken on before heading into retirement.
Robson admits he had been hoping to see a former favourite back at the Theatre of Dreams, with it surprising to discover that Jose Mourinho was not in the market for an all-time great once the exit doors were opened in Spain.
The former Red Devils captain told the Manchester Evening News: “I was surprised that Ronaldo didn't finish his career at Real Madrid or Manchester United.
“That was a surprising move when he went to Juventus. Someone like Ronaldo can change your season. It can happen.”
Ronaldo is yet to make the impact expected of him in Italy, with three Serie A fixtures taken in without a goal.
He is, however, being backed to come good and would have unquestionably raised the collective quality at United had he returned to the Premier League.
The Red Devils have rather stumbled out of the blocks in 2018-19 after struggling to bolster their ranks over the summer, with six points taken from four games.
Questions are being asked of Mourinho’s men as a result, but Robson claims to have seen signs of encouragement and expects United to improve as the season goes on.
The two-time Premier League title winner added: “The defining moments for our lads will be how well we do against the bigger clubs who are going to be challenging for the Champions League spots and the title.
“If United have a really good season against that opposition, anything can happen.
"People are saying it's similar with 92-93 when we had a slow start but went on to win the title. I think this squad definitely can challenge and be up there.
“It was a little bit disappointing a start. Everyone understands that. But there have been a few performances, Antonio Valencia coming back into the team, Nemanja Matic, some of the World Cup players looking that bit sharper in the Burnley game.
“You can see the balance and shape of the team coming together.”