The joy of August 31 when Cristiano Ronaldo made his long-awaited return to Manchester United feels far away now.
Ronaldo marked his comeback to Old Trafford 12 years on from his departure to Real Madrid in a typically dramatic fashion. On September 11, he made his second debut for the club and scored twice in a 4-1 against Newcastle United.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side looked vibrant, full of confidence and in the five-time Ballon d’Or winner they now had an almost guaranteed supply of goals that was certain to fire them up the table.
The momentum continued six days later as Ronaldo scored again to equalize against West Ham before Jesse Lingard scored a stunning, galvanizing, last-minute winner. Even a shock defeat to Young Boys in the Champions League a few days before, in which Ronaldo also scored in, did little to rock the good vibes.
Everything was looking up. Until it wasn’t.
Following the win at the London Stadium, United won just one of their next eight league games, a dire run that led to Solskjaer’s sacking and left the season in tatters. The gap between themselves and the leading pack was already looking insurmountable. The wait for a 21st Premier League title was already doomed to go on.
Things haven’t fared much better under the new interim boss Ralf Rangnick. Though slight improvements are being made in attacking areas of the pitch, they are rarely sustained for a full 90 minutes and the squad’s brittle nature and complete lack of confidence has repeatedly haunted them.
United were knocked out of the Carabao Cup in their first game in the competition and Friday’s shock FA Cup elimination to Middlesbrough has reduced the slender chance of winning silverware this year even further.
Upon his return to Manchester, Ronaldo made it clear that he had come back to United to achieve greatness. To lift trophies.
“I think it’s the best decision that I have made it,” he said. “It’s right on point in my opinion.
“I moved from Juve now to Manchester, it’s a new chapter, I’m so happy and glad, and I want to carry on again, to make history, to try to help Manchester achieve great results, to win trophies and number one of them, to win great things.”
The Portuguese is looking in increasing danger of not fulfilling his goals in his second stint with the club. The only chance United have of success this season is winning the Champions League which seems rather unlikely to say the least.
Then it may also be difficult next year, too. The following campaign will be yet another one of transition for United, as a new permanent coach will arrive and several players are expected to leave on free transfers. That’s if everything goes to plan and there’s still plenty of work to be done.
If anything goes wrong, like United’s hunt for a manager, then it could be made even more difficult.
At the end of next season Ronaldo will be 38 and with his age already showing signs of catching up to him, another season – there’s an option to extend his contract for another year past 2023 – may not be feasible.
With the way things are going, Ronaldo’s fairytale return might not get a fitting ending.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.