It’s safe to say Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United hasn’t exactly gone to plan.
When he arrived back in Manchester 12 years after his departure to conquer the world, he had a very clear aim in mind — to continue growing his massive medal collection. “I think it’s the best decision that I have made,” he told United’s official site upon signing for the club from Juventus.
“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.”
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In the seven months since that interview, the joyous mood that welcomed Ronaldo’s return has faded. United haven’t achieved any great results, they won’t achieve anything great and they will not win any trophy this season; their five-year silverware drought will continue.
United look highly unlikely to even achieve anything adequate, let alone great, as a spot in the top four is looking less and less achievable with every passing match, the latest being a humiliating 1-0 defeat to relegation-threatened Everton on Saturday. Ronaldo returned to help United compete in the Champions League and next season they probably won’t even be in it.
As a result, Ronaldo’s future is now coming into doubt just a year after his Manchester comeback. He still has 12 months remaining on his current deal, with the club holding the option to extend it further. But it’s difficult to see him abiding a season of playing on Thursday nights towards the end of his career.
The decision may be taken out of United’s hands if the Portuguese does decide to force a departure but, if not, a split is something that the club should consider anyway. There are pros and cons.
On the pitch, Ronaldo has been rather paradoxical at times. His complete lack of pressing from the front, inclination to remain within the width of the box and lack of mobility completely changed the way United played, making them less dynamic, creative and exciting going forward. Yet, he has helped — less so in recent weeks but certainly earlier in the season — to nullify that issue by being ultra-clinical in front of goal and dragging United to victories.
They wouldn’t have made it out of their Champions League group if it wasn’t for his crucial strikes and he is by far the club’s top scorer this season. He’s the only player to hit double figures and, on 18, he has double the amount Bruno Fernandes has in second place.
But the goals are beginning to dry up. Of his 18 strikes from him only four have come in 2022 and three of them came in one game against Tottenham. While he is still capable of thrilling moments of magic as he produced in that match, the gaps between them are becoming larger and his edge is starting to blunt.
Ronaldo is by far the highest-paid player in England but he is not justifying the price at present. He isn’t getting younger and it’s hard to imagine the steady decline going in the other direction. It would make a lot of sense for United to cut ties with him this summer and instead invest in a younger frontman.
Allowing Ronaldo to leave would also allow the new manager — likely Erik ten Hag — to have a fresh start without having to deal with such a massive ego who will demand to start every match. The Dutchman also likes to play with a high press and quick, fluid football which certainly doesn’t sound like it would suit Ronaldo.
Yet, there would obviously be drawbacks to allowing him to leave as well. United struggle for goals as at is so getting rid of your top scorer does seem like a foolish move. United are also severely low on attacking options already and Edinson Cavani will leave in the summer, while Anthony Martial may also depart. A new striker must be signed even if Ronaldo stays and a departure would mean even more money would need to be spent.
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As well as strikers, United are lacking in experienced players who know how to win things. Cutting such a big, forceful personality and a serial winner out of the squad could make a fragile morale splinter further. Yet Ronaldo’s outburst following the defeat to Everton hardly paints the picture of a composed leader, so it could be argued his departure from him would be good for the dressing room.
Finally, perhaps it’s harsh to judge Ronaldo’s performances in a season in which United have been so poor and he has not been coached by a top manager. Maybe under a new coach with a more defined playing style and a clear attacking plan he would find his best once again?
There are positives and negatives to keeping Ronaldo from every angle you look and his future will be one of the club’s biggest decisions to make this summer.
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