To see Cristiano Ronaldo playing for Manchester United this year, is something that will intrigue all football fans across the world. The thirty six year old has returned after twelve years of near constant success, in order to help bring back the major trophies that have eluded the Red Devils. The drought began when Sir Alex Ferguson retired, and it appears the intention is to add a gifted footballer & serial winner.
With a central striking role in a 4-2-3-1 the more likely destination for Ronaldo, there will be questions as to the adequacy of the veteran forward. As a player that enjoyed his best years on the left of a front three, it would be curious to see if and where he actually lines up. Ronaldo is still a phenomenal football player, an incredible athlete and a world class scorer of goals. His overall impact will surely be positive, and he will inevitably rack up impressive numbers, because that is what happens when Ronaldo starts in any team. His personal success has often been to the teams benefit, however I believe his eternal desire to succeed, could be to the detriment of other United players throughout the year.
United’s best player over the last 20 months has been Bruno Fernandes, and it’s not even close. The team operates and is often selected to garner the best from this man, and that is entirely correct. In order to further extract the best from this player should have seen a holding midfielder purchased, in order to give further balance to United’s line up. In Ronaldo, it seems they have signed a player they wanted, instead of what the side really needed.
In tight situations where a goal is needed, Ronaldo offers as much as any forward in world football still. His knack for poaching has increased over the seasons, as his durability off the ball waned. His departure to Juventus (from Real Madrid) made perfect sense at the time, given the fairly low intensity of the Serie A. To return to the Premier League as a player of advancing footballing years, will suit games where overwhelming pressure is being shown by United. The real issue may be against the high end teams, where off ball work, structure and pressing is required to compete. These moments cannot not allow for the likes of Paul Pogba & Cristiano Ronaldo in the same side, and it may lead to Ole Gunnar Solskjær having to make tough decisions on selection. With Pogba having started in imperious form this season (and a contract situation rumbling on), whether or not Ole has the strength to make tough calls, will surely be tested in the coming months.
The likes of Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood & Jadon Sancho should be pushed as the next evolution of United’s attack. The addition of Edison Cavani made absolute sense as a veteran option, but the three young English players must now feel they should be first team starters. With Cristiano Ronaldo thrown into the mix, one must feel he’s arriving with an expectation to play regularly, especially in key games. To imagine Ronaldo sits out against the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool doesn’t entirely fit. Therefore as a player set to earn approximately £25 million per year, this could in fact see the next generation of forwards making way for a thirty six year old. How this impacts the dressing room is yet to be determined, but Juventus seemed very keen to see their veteran Portuguese move on, which may be a worry given their stuttering season last year.
Mason Greenwood is now one the brightest young players in world football, and his time to shine should be now. His ability to grow with both Sancho & Rashford should be how United move forward. The creativity and goal getting of Fernandes seemed to complete the ideal front four, until City moved for the Christiano Ronaldo.
This year represents a must win season for Ole, with huge money invested and a squad built for success. In Ronaldo they have a proven winner, but also a historically powerful player that will be expecting the team to service his best qualities. The team seemed to be filling areas of need, until this unexpected move, which has probably cost them the holding midfielder they desperately needed.
Manchester United are one of the biggest teams in world football, that seemed intent on building a new and youthful forward line. I believe Ronaldo can offer much across the season, but unfortunately we may see another Donny van de Beek situation, where talented young players sit watching from the bench. If Greenwood were to be shunned for an aged Ronaldo, we may see a split in the dressing, especially as Bruno Fernandes & Cristiano Ronaldo do not seem to operate cohesively for Portugal. Areas of change needed to be acted upon in key areas of the team. Raphaël Varane coming in makes sense, Jadon Sancho is a world class player in the making, but not addressing the midfield two will be detrimental against top sides. Despite the goals Ronaldo will most definitely add, I still struggle to see how the signing improves their chances of winning major silverware this season.
To have such a historic player as Ronaldo back in the English League is fantastic, unfortunately that may not be the case for Mason Greenwood. If Mason does find himself making way for the returning Ronaldo, that would be a massive shame for England, United & Greenwood himself.