A few pointers to the Cristiano Ronaldo issue at Manchester United

Cristiano Ronaldo laments a missed opportunity, one of many, that cost Manchester United against Atletico de Madrid. (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)
Cristiano Ronaldo laments a missed opportunity, one of many, that cost Manchester United against Atletico de Madrid. (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images) /
Cristiano Ronaldo has fallen out of favor with his manager Erik ten Hag at Manchester United. (Photo by James Gill – Danehouse/Getty Images) /

Cristiano Ronaldo is inarguably one of the finest footballers of all time. He has won almost every individual and team accolade worth having and scored more than 700 goals in his professional career thus far.

When the 37-year-old superstar made a comeback to his former club, Manchester United, last season, it was touted as one of United’s best signings in the recent past.

Ronaldo did not disappoint supporters either, scoring 24 goals in the 2021-22 season. However, since the arrival of Dutch manager Erik ten Hag, his relationship with club management has soured and he recently declined to come in as a substitute against Tottenham Hotspur.

It was not taken very nicely by the United manager and there are likely to be consequences to Ronaldo’s action.

In this piece, we try to look at the Ronaldo issue from various perspectives. Let us get on with it.

This is no charity for either party

Yes, a lot of emotion was associated with Ronaldo’s homecoming of sorts at the start of last season as Manchester United was the club where Ronaldo first attained global stardom.

He spent six very successful seasons there before moving to Real Madrid and achieving even greater heights with the Spanish giants.

Ronaldo then went to Juventus and won a few Serie A titles with them, helping the cause by scoring plenty of goals himself. His decision to return to United was in keeping with a lucrative retirement plan, and a weekly wage of £385,000  certainly did not hurt.

The emotions of the United loyalists were with the talismanic player, but one has to keep in mind that the club was paying him a hefty salary.

The move worked out nicely for the club, too. Following the footsteps of Juve, who achieved a record sale of CR7 jerseys several seasons back, Manchester United have also been able to cash in on Ronaldo’s brand value through the sale of their merchandise.

Charity does not exist in professional football and as always, it is the give-and-take policy that reigns supreme.

The utility of Ronaldo to the club

Now, we are going to focus on the technical issues a bit. Ronaldo, who started his career as a winger, is now accustomed to playing as the centre-forward. He scored heaps of goals for Real and Juve playing as the target man.

Manchester United, who play in a 4-2-3-1 formation, have been using Marcus Rashford as the centre-forward in their recent matches.

While Rashford is having a good run and Antony, their new signing, has impressed with his performance on the right flank, Jadon Sancho’s performances have not quite been up to the mark. He has been regularly subbed and has not been able to make much of an impact as an attacker.

Ten Hag gives emphasis on attacking and defending as a team repeatedly, but Sancho seems to be doing neither at the moment. United continue to need the services of a genuine goal scorer. For all of Rashford’s good form, they have had to depend upon their midfielders for scoring goals of late.

Nobody is bigger than the club

Every big football club has become successful by putting their interest above any individual and United are no exception. Ronaldo is definitely not bigger than the club and should be punished for his lack of discipline.

There has been precedence in the form of Roy Keane and David Beckham in this regard, speaking strictly of United and their players.

However, it has to be remembered that the club is bigger than the manager’s ego as well. When United were getting hammered by Manchester City at the Etihad, Ten Hag did not deem it necessary to put Ronaldo in after having conceded four in the first half.

In their last league match against Chelsea, Anthony Elanga, anything but a centre forward, replaced Rashford in the second half and Bruno Fernandes played as the centre forward during the last 10 minutes.

While Ten Hag is a good manager and United’s passing has definitely improved under his tutelage, he would do well to keep in mind the recent example of Unai Emery and Mesut Ozil at Arsenal.

Emery’s issues with Ozil  cost him his job, Ozil a place in the club and the club a few seasons inside the top 4. The Dutch manager will be well-advised to avoid going the Emery route at a club that is used to seeing more success than Arsenal.

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Ronaldo is definitely past his best and has a season or two left at the top at most. However, are the players who are playing instead of him, any better? The question lingers and will probably be answered by the end of the season.