In the build-up to Manchester United’s trip to Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday evening, interim manager Ralf Rangnick used his penultimate pre-match press conference to drop an almighty bombshell.
The German, who has littered his press conferences with refreshing levels of honesty since his December arrival at Old Trafford, made his biggest and most telling admission to date. He revealed that he wanted to add a striker to United’s ranks in the January transfer window and his efforts were blocked.
“Obviously, there were some problems the team had at the end of November and as we all know, in the first couple of months, at least until end of January, we were improving,” Rangnick said. “We were conceding fewer goals, we had a points average of 2.1 after the West Ham game.
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“But then in that international break we lost, including Edinson Cavani, three players – long-term players – we lost three strikers and we had problems to score goals and find our balance, this is what happened. Maybe – I still believe – we should have tried, in those 48 hours, and I think the board meanwhile sees it the same way – they agreed with me – but they also spoke to the scouting department at the time, maybe we should have signed, tried to sign, a player in those 48 hours once we knew Mason [Greenwood] wouldn’t be available, once we knew that Anthony Martial had already left on loan.
“We were at least already aware Edinson Cavani might not be available for eight out of ten games but, as I said, we didn’t. Maybe I should have pushed even more in order to get this additional striker. But, as I said , we didn’t.”
Had United added a fresh dimension to their attacking ranks in January, would they be in a stronger position than what they find themselves in now with just one game of the season remaining? How long is a piece of string? We will never know.
But when you consider that United have only scored 21 goals since the January transfer window closed and ten have them been netted by Cristiano Ronaldo, it suggests that there has been an over-reliance on the Portugal captain. He scored hat-tricks against both Tottenham Hotspur and Norwich City, and rescued them a point against Chelsea when they needed a hero.
As well as that, in the three games that Ronaldo has missed since the window closed, United have scored just two goals, highlighting why they’re at a loss without him and why the theory that he is ‘the problem’ is nothing but ridiculous . But Ronaldo’s ability to score 24 goals in a United side that has under-performed throughout the season ought to raise questions about what he might be capable of if they improve under Erik ten Hag, should he become a key part of the Dutchman’s plans.
Over the last few days, reports have suggested that Ten Hag wants to utilize Ronaldo’s talents during his debut season at Old Trafford – and why wouldn’t he? He is one of the greatest players of all-time and his heroics in front of goal this season has quashed any theories that he is past his best.
But it does raise a conundrum over the type of striker that United should sign this summer to bolster their attacking options and fill the gap that is set to be vacated by Cavani. He is out-of-contract next month and will leave the club.
Rangnick, back in February, highlighted the importance of United signing a younger striker this forthcoming summer to reduce the average age of their forward options. Benfica star Darwin Nunez is amongst the names to have been most heavily linked with Old Trafford.
Whilst the lack of Champions League football on offer would hamper United’s chances of signing him, plus someone like Erling Haaland, Ronaldo’s presence at United next season, unless Ten Hag adopts a formation with a front-two, could hinder a new arrival’s chances of being to regular starter.
Next season, of course, signals the start of a new era at United, but if Ronaldo does stay he cannot be cut out of the equation; he has to continue as their tormentor-in-chief at the top end of the pitch. He might be 37, but his exploits this season have proven he cannot be ignored.
Therefore, Ronaldo’s presence will force United into thinking very cleverly and strategically about who could they could sign and who would be satisfied to play second-fiddle to the former Real Madrid man. Potentially, Rangnick’s smart recruitment record could come into its own when ticking this particular box.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.