THE SAGA of Cristiano Ronaldo and Manchester United drags on, each party not particularly happy to prolong the agony, but nobody coming forward to take the player off the club’s hands. He’s 37, not part of anybody’s idea of the future and he currently earns close to £ 27 million per year. That’s an expensive luxury item for any football club to indulge.
Haven’t the footballing public got tired of characters like Ronaldo yet? In any other walk of time, he would be considered a pain in the butt, an example of the hubris that exists in the game and an especially poor case of the star culture that plagues the Premier League. Clubs were supposed to be bigger than the individual, but Ronaldo, and his entourage of media and PR acolytes, always make the narrative about him. He was an exceptional talent, for sure, but this is not a player who is willing to compromise and run down his career enjoying himself at a less challenging level. One could be impressed by that, but in looking for more glory, he is also frantically seeking a place to continue his relationship with the UEFA Champions League. It is not going to happen.
Manchester United were seduced into signing him last season. The club has a desperate look about it at the moment and if they felt that bringing Ronaldo home would be a statement of intent, they were wrong. The second coming of CR7 was doomed from the start, a flag of convenience for the player, a shot-in-the arm for the publicity department at Old Trafford. But it was never going to work because this wasn’t about the team, or about the club’s future plans, this was all about keeping those myths going.
Look at the shambles that has become Manchester United, from their poor transfer market activity to the ill-thought appointment of Ralf Rangnick, the wrong man for the wrong job. Now, Erik Ten Hag has the task of trying to stop the decay of the club, sort out who is going and staying and also clear the decks of Ronaldo. Ten Hag is a capable man and would doubtless have been successful at most other Premier clubs, the question is, can anyone be truly successful at a club that has lost its way and is now chasing its local rivals, City and Liverpool, both of whom have better game plans?.
“Ronaldo represents the antithesis of the values that are the hallmarks of our Atléti” – Atlético Madrid fans when news broke of a possible deal.
City, in particular, must be laughing. United seemingly signed Ronaldo because they thought City were going to snap him up and in doing so, steal “their man” from under their nose. How Guardiola would have handled CR7 is anyone’s guess, but how do you fit a player who plays his own tune into a “system team” like City?
Ronaldo’s arrival back at Old Trafford was greeted with near hysteria by many fans and players. Regardless of any concerns about slotting a high maintenance individual into a relatively young squad, all the masses could see was the return of Ronaldo, the spectacular goals that have trademarked his career and the undoubted charisma. Nobody seemed to take into consideration the disruption, the preening and posturing and the requirements of the team ethic. “We’ve got one of the all-time greats”. But he was 36, had spent three years in Serie A and he was bloody expensive.
It also continued United’s trend of signing big names at the end of their career. Ronaldo followed Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani, all wonderful players in their prime, but hardly the stuff of forward thinking. It is hard to see United as a modern version of Southampton when players like Mick Channon, Kevin Keegan, Mick Mills and Alan Ball enjoyed late-career flurries on the south coast.
Erik Ten Hag doesn’t need Ronaldo because he’s a coach trying to make his name at the biggest club he’s ever likely to manage. Some United fans have credited Ten Hag with developing and playing youngsters, but it should be noted that Ajax develop players as part of their DNA, it is a part of their culture, and Ten Hag happened to be the most recent beneficiary. For United to benefit from that kind of philosophy, it has to be there in the first place. It is not something Ten Hag necessarily brings to the club. Ten Hag has the skills to make United successful again, but he should be doing it without the distraction of Ronaldo. If the problem persists and let’s face it, Ronaldo wants out of Old Trafford, so how can a meaningful relationship exist?, then Ten Hag will not be working in the right environment. And at this precise moment, United need all the help they can get.