BBC Radio Five Live commentator Ian Dennis is delighted radio will get its moment in the spotlight on Saturday with Cristiano Ronaldo set to make his second Manchester United debut against Newcastle at Old Trafford.
With no live UK TV coverage of the game, the station is the only place to follow every moment of the 3pm kick-off with the Portuguese expected to at least be involved off the bench having returned to United on transfer deadline day last month.
Dennis and ex-Newcastle and England winger Chris Waddle will provide exclusive live commentary of the match for Five Live’s flagship Saturday show and excitement is building, especially for the long-serving commentator.
“It feels more like an occasion than a football match with Ronaldo’s return and so much attention on the station,” Dennis told the PA news agency.
“There is no doubt it will be one of those occasions where you feel privileged to be inside Old Trafford, without a shadow of a doubt.
“You don’t have to have a connection to Manchester United. The fact you will be watching the return of a world superstar and icon, the fact he is back in the Premier League, it is great for football in this country and it will just be great to be there.”
Radio carries extra significance due to this fixture taking place at 3pm on Saturday, which for the last 60 years has been known as the ‘3pm blackout’ with matches unable to be broadcast on TV during that two-hour window in order to protect attendances throughout the football pyramid in the UK.
United’s popularity and participation in European competitions always limits their chances of being scheduled to play during that slot anyway and this weekend will be the first time in 62 weeks the Red Devils have played at 3pm on a Saturday after Sky Sports and BT Sport turned down the chance to show the fixture weeks before Ronaldo swapped Italy for England.
Dennis is happy radio will broadcast the biggest match of the weekend, with the station making the calculated decision to swap commentary of Leicester’s game with Manchester City after the five-time Ballon D’Or winner completed a return to a club where he won three Premier League titles, one FA Cup and the Champions League between 2003 and 2009.
“I am just pleased radio has got its moment in the spotlight,” he added. “We play second fiddle to TV a lot of the time and the fact we are the envy of the TV execs makes a pleasant change.
“We certainly can’t miss a goal on Saturday. If Ronaldo was to score a 30-yard screamer and we’re away at Leicester getting an update, I will be most upset but that is where we have to strike the balance but the producers will.
“We always go off for updates when the ball is in a safe area of the field or it has gone out for a goal kick, so we will have to be on our toes but that is the beauty of radio.
“It’s intimate, immediate, it is that connection between the broadcaster and listener regardless of what programme you are listening to. That is why I think radio appeals to so many still.”
Ronaldo last week became the all-time top goalscorer in international football and may have sat out the clash with Newcastle had he not received a yellow card for celebrating his record against the Republic of Ireland, which saw him suspended for Tuesday’s clash with Azerbaijan.
It allowed Portugal to release the 36-year-old early and he has trained with his new team-mates since Tuesday to make a second debut against Newcastle a likely outcome.
Dennis remembers where he was when United completed the signing of the-then 18-year-old back in 2003 and was told straight away Ronaldo would be a superstar.
He said: “I was away with Newcastle in Partizan Belgrade and I was talking to Sir Bobby Robson. We said Man United have signed this young kid called Cristiano Ronaldo and Sir Bobby waxed lyrical about him and the prospect of what he could be.
“Even before I had seen Ronaldo kick a ball, I was more than aware of his potential and you think back to what he has achieved in that time. He always said he believes he is the best and he has gone on to prove that.
“I am just excited to be watching him again because he is someone who is captivating to watch, both on and off the pitch. People say it is all about him, I think Saturday they are absolutely bang on; it will be all about him… providing he plays of course!”
Ronaldo fever has been rife at Old Trafford since United first announced the ex-Real Madrid and Juventus player was set to return and Fanatics told Sky Sports this week sales of his number seven shirt hit record figures and bettered the best full day of global sales for the club’s online store.
Tickets for Saturday’s match have also sold fast, with some priced at £535 on TicketGum while Ticket Liquidator are still selling some for £583.
BT Sport pundit Rio Ferdinand, who shared a dressing room with Ronaldo at Old Trafford, told the PA news agency: “You just want to see him play now, put the shirt on and walk out at Old Trafford again.
“The whole place has got a lift and beyond Man United he lifts the whole league in terms of the interest and everything. United fans never thought they would see the day he would put on a Man United shirt again.
“Everyone is elated and my kids never thought they would see Cristiano in a Man United kit, so it has been great to see.”