MANCHESTER, England -- There are those at Manchester United who would quite like to sign Harry Kane if he was to become available in the summer -- but with the Tottenham striker watching on, Cristiano Ronaldo once again showed everyone that he is not ready to be replaced just yet.
The 37-year-old striker scored all three goals as United edged past Spurs 3-2 at Old Trafford on Saturday, almost single-handedly keeping alive their hopes of finishing in the top four this season.
With his second, Ronaldo scored for the 806th time in his professional career to officially become the greatest goal scorer the game has ever seen, at least according to the record-keeping that exists.
Goal No. 807 -- a powerful header 10 minutes from the end with the match delicately poised at 2-2 -- was far more meaningful in the race for Champions League football against a team who are also in the hunt. It was Ronaldo's last touch of the evening and he went off to chants of "Viva Ronaldo" and a standing ovation.
Even American football legend Tom Brady, sat in the stands above the benches, applauded. Greatness recognising greatness.
"Today it was his best performance, at least since I arrived," said manager Ralf Rangnick. "He was good in training on Thursday and that is why I decided to start him.
"It was not just the three goals today it was also he was part of the team when they were in possession of the ball. It was probably our best performance bearing in mind the quality of the opponents. It was necessary, we had to win the game."
Kane played his part with a first-half penalty to make it 1-1 after Ronaldo, back in the team after recovering from a hip flexor problem, had given United the lead with a 25-yard bullet which flew past Hugo Lloris but by the final whistle there was only one winner in the battle of the strikers.
It was the type of performance from the Portuguese forward that will make United supporters believe anything is still possible this season. With Ronaldo in the team, they will fancy their chances of beating Atletico Madrid here on Tuesday night and, once into the Champions league quarterfinals, anything can happen.
Michallik: The moment you think Ronaldo's done, he does this
Janusz Michallik warns against doubting Cristiano Ronaldo after his hat trick in Manchester United's win vs. Spurs.
With Ronaldo a winner in the competition five times already, there will be fans believing, even after a largely underwhelming campaign, he could yet make it six. That's the effect he has.
Midway through the first half, Alex Telles swung in a hopeful cross from the left. Ronaldo was outnumbered and outmuscled, sandwiched between Eric Dier and Ben Davies, but Old Trafford still held its breath waiting, against all odds, for something spectacular. That moment was not to be, but twice against Tottenham he created something out of nothing.
There seemed very little danger when he picked up Fred's flick outside the Tottenham penalty area -- but three touches later, Lloris was spread out on the floor and the ball was in the net.
His second to make it 2-1 was a tap in that owed much to Nemanja Matic's pass and a poor Tottenham offside trap, which allowed Jadon Sancho to escape down the left. But his third, after a Harry Maguire own goal had made it 2-2, was built from a desire to score goals that few have ever been able to replicate.
United looked to be tiring when Telles sent in a corner from the right but Ronaldo still found the energy to burst past Matt Doherty and head past Lloris. Almost immediately, an image began to do the rounds on social media of a moment before the ball had hit the net showing the horror on Doherty's face when he realised it was who had just bulldozed him out of the way.
He already knew. So did Rangnick.
"I didn't expect him to score three goals, but I expected him to score," added Rangnick said. "It's a challenge with a player like Ronaldo, but he showed today that he still has the quality to play for a club like Manchester United."
Maybe a bid for Kane or another striker can wait a year.
Of United's 10 shots, Ronaldo had eight with five hitting the target as he recorded his first hat trick for the club since January 2008. Incidentally, he helped United win the Champions League that season. Atletico beware.
More immediately, though, his 59th career hat trick moved United back up into fourth place. Arsenal, Tottenham, West Ham and Wolves all have games in hand, but you wouldn't bet against Ronaldo in this irresistible form keeping them there.
"It was an amazing performance," rued Antonio Conte. "Unfortunately, I know him very well and so it is not a surprise. Without Cristiano Ronaldo, for United it wouldn't have been a good night."
With him in the team, there is always a chance.