It seems Manchester United are not only masters of the late turnaround on the pitch, but off it, too.
Just as it looked like Cristiano Ronaldo was bound for Manchester City on a private jet out of Turin, United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hinted that the doors of Old Trafford were open to his old team-mate. Within hours, the ‘race’ to sign him was over: Ronaldo was becoming a Red Devil again.
It’s a transfer that did not even look possible 24 hours earlier and one that makes Alexis Sanchez’s dramatic decision to join United over City three years ago look positively dull by comparison.
And talking of Sanchez: a sensational transfer this may be, but is it the right one? Two Stats Perform writers go head to head to settle the debate…
‘Still one of the best around’
By Patric Ridge
For much of the last two decades, Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have tussled for dominance.
Ronaldo’s first Ballon d’Or – the first of five – was won in 2008, when he was still at United. The remaining four followed across his spell at Real Madrid.
While the endless debate over which superstar shines brightest rolls on, well, endlessly, there can be no doubting that Ronaldo, even at 36, is still one of the best around.
Rather than slowing down, Ronaldo has refined his game, from flying winger to penalty box poacher.
In 2020-21, only four players across Europe’s top five leagues scored more goals than Ronaldo’s haul of 36. No prizes for guessing those names, either.
Of his tally, 33 came from inside the area, with seven from his head, nine with his left foot and the remainder of his total coming with that wicked right.
Given United’s creative qualities, Ronaldo will not be short of service. His international team-mate Bruno Fernandes created 12 goals last season and is sure to be licking his lips. Paul Pogba has already crafted five goals this term – a Premier League first this early in a campaign.
United have the money. A midfielder may still be required but goals win games and Ronaldo scores them. Regularly.
With Edinson Cavani providing another experienced option, the pressure can also be lifted off the likes of Mason Greenwood, Jadon Sancho and, when he returns from injury, Marcus Rashford, who will surely be relishing the chance to learn from one of the game’s greats. A fully fit and raring Anthony Martial, meanwhile, would add another string to Solskjaer’s bow.
In 2016, United brought a 34-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Old Trafford. While injury derailed the latter stages of his campaign, it is surely no coincidence that the club last won a trophy back in the 2016-17 season.
Solskjaer has so far fallen short in that regard. Ronaldo should get them across the line. Plus, getting one over on the noisy neighbours will never be judged as a bad thing.
‘This could be an error for all concerned‘
By Joe Wright
When rumours emerged Ronaldo could return to Spain, he responded on Instagram to say: “My story at Real Madrid has been written.” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti added: “Cristiano is a Real Madrid legend and he has all my love and respect. I have never considered signing him. We look forward.”
Mutual respect and admiration, but no sentiment. Ronaldo and Madrid’s glorious history will remain just that: history. Nostalgia has little place in the aspirations of the elite.
That is the attitude Manchester United should have had.
Ronaldo last played for the Red Devils 12 years ago, when he was a roving wide forward, not a 36-year-old poacher. He was signed by Juventus three years ago with a view to being the missing piece to their Champions League hopes, and they never got beyond the last eight. There is little reason United should think he alone can drag them any closer to the biggest domestic or European titles.
For the player, too, it’s a strange move. If he really was motivated to leave Juve by a desire for one more crack at the Champions League and a sixth Ballon d’Or, is United the best place to achieve those goals? They have been to two Champions League quarter-finals in 10 years, and their last player to win the game’s top individual prize was Ronaldo himself back in 2008.
Solskjaer proclaimed his admiration for his old team-mate in the hours before the deal with Juve was confirmed, but this is not a signing in keeping with Solskjaer’s ideals. The pursuit of expensive stars such as Sanchez or Angel Di Maria from past regimes was replaced by a search for younger, hungrier talent, and it’s generally paid dividends. The club has laboured long, hard and to no little expense to turn their transfer policy to a sensible, long-term approach. If signing Cavani was a step away from that, this is a giant leap.
If reports are to be believed, Ronaldo was dragged back to Old Trafford via the heartstrings, with ex-players like Rio Ferdinand and even former boss Alex Ferguson urging him to snub City. It may sound cynical, but signings should be considered through detailed analysis and forward planning, not rose-tinted spectacles and impassioned phone calls.
And anyway, United really don’t need another forward. Solskjaer spent weeks convincing Cavani to stay for another year, and now the Uruguayan has likely lost his starting spot. The manager said he does not want to sell Martial or Jesse Lingard to make space, either. Rashford is out injured until October, but United also have new signing Sancho, Daniel James and Greenwood, along with academy striker Anthony Elanga and expensive teenager Amad Diallo. Solskjaer might have preferred remaining funds to be focused on getting a defensive central midfielder, while a two-year deal for Ronaldo might also ruin their chances of signing Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland next year – and those chances were good, given the 21-year-old’s relationship with Solskjaer.
Ronaldo and United wrote a marvellous story together. The sequel could be an error for all concerned.
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