Replacing but “not for sale”, cumbersome but “with a role in the future”: the case of Cristiano Ronaldo continues to be debated at Manchester United, even more after the victory of the Red Devils almost without the competition of “CR7” Monday against Liverpool (2-1).
With the Portuguese star only coming on in the 86th minute, ‘ManU’ clinched their first league victory much to manager Erik ten Hag’s relief that the two opening defeats (1-2 to Brighton and 4-0 at Brentford) had already weakened.
By installing the fivefold Ballon d’Or on the bench at the start of the shock against the Reds, the Dutch coach took a risk, which ultimately paid off, while fueling the debate concerning the future of a player whose behavior lends to controversy since the start of the season.
The attacking trio Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho (both scorers) and Anthony Elanga having given satisfaction on Monday, it will undoubtedly be difficult for Ronaldo to find a place in the “eleven” in the short term. Even if ten Hag’s speech is intended to be soothing.
“I don’t need to mention Harry Maguire (also a substitute on Monday, editor’s note) and Ronaldo: they are incredible players and they will play a role in the future, in the short (term) future too”, assured the successful former coach of Ajax, finding it “always difficult” to leave them aside.
This conciliatory speech, however, hides a real gap between the player and his coach.
Ronaldo first missed United’s pre-season tour for “family reasons”, then announced to his managers his desires elsewhere (if possible within a club competing in the Champions League, of which he holds the goalscoring record with 140 units). After which, Ronaldo drew the ire of ten Hag by leaving before the end a warm-up match against Rayo Vallecano during which he had been substituted at the break.
No wonder then that since the start of the championship, the Portuguese has only been used sparingly: only one full game during the rout at Brentford, 37 minutes at the start against Brighton, and therefore only 10 on Monday.
The 37-year-old former Real and Juventus player may have finished as Manchester’s top scorer last season (18 goals in the Premier League), but his star is fading.
In addition, many observers in England believe that Ronaldo’s profile and age are not compatible with the style of play dear to Erik ten Hag, which requires constant pressing and a great deal of energy.
Find a buyer
Even if the Dutchman relativizes: “I think he can (adapt). Throughout his career, he’s done it under multiple coaches, in multiple systems. He always played, so why couldn’t he achieve it? His age is not a problem,” said ten Hag after the win against Liverpool.
Still, the current situation of the 2016 European champion with Portugal, eager to shine at the 2022 World Cup this fall (November 20-December 18) could push agent Jorge Mendes to speed up his efforts to find a buyer club: the tracks mentioned in recent weeks (Barça, Atlético Madrid, Bayern Munich, Dortmund) have fizzled, and speculation sending him to Marseille is currently only one rumor among others in this transfer window period.
What explain the cautious speech of ten Hag when he evokes a player who could finally stay at United and who must therefore be spared.
On Monday, the technician welcomed the recruitment of midfielder Casemiro (ex-Real Madrid), supposed to bring “leadership on the ground”. “(This leadership) Ronaldo has it too. We need advice for young players who haven’t won trophies,” he said.