When a club signs Cristiano Ronaldo, it’s not to build for the future. At 36 and arriving with a sickening level of fanfare, the idea of forming part of a project still not yet ready to challenge for the Premier League and the Champions League is quite frankly farcical. Indeed, Ronaldo makes clubs act strangely.
Prior to his signing, Juventus were largely renowned for their coherent planning behind the scenes. Masters of the transfer market, perennial Serie A winners and just a fraction away from winning the Champions League, the decision to pay €100m for a 33-year-old led to a circus.
Eager to capitalise on the extra attention having Cristiano Ronaldo in their squad gave them, those behind the scenes in Turin appeared to lose their minds. Desperate to give the added eyes a better product (over a relentless winning machine), Juventus first sacked Max Allegri and then Maurizio Sarri, before deciding that appointing a novice in Andrea Pirlo was a good idea.
This, after all, was effectively a workers club welcoming a genuine superstar. While that may be a fairly romantic view of a club’s history (one that probably doesn’t matter to the money men), they seemed to have no idea how to incorporate such a big name.
Of course, Juventus have housed some of the biggest names in world football over the years but, largely, they had made their names there before moving on.
The same is largely true of United. Part of Old Trafford’s charm is that it is where legends are crafted, rather than bought ready-made. The history of the Number 7 shirt will tell you that.
George Best, Bryan Robson and David Beckham were all effectively created by the club and brought into the mainstream in United red. Even Eric Cantona was damaged goods upon arrival, while Cristiano Ronaldo – in his first form – was a raw talent needing direction.
Those stellar names represent the successes. Angel di Maria, Alexis Sanchez and Memphis Depay – big names when signed – reflect the exact opposite.
Of course, it is just a shirt but it is indicative of what United are as a club. Their major successes come from building, not solely from buying. Di Maria, Radamel Falcao, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Juan Sebsatian Veron were all good players but failed to deliver.
Clearly, Cristiano Ronaldo is a level above and the early indications are that he will score plenty of goals. That has never been the concern, however. It’s the overall impact he has in terms of winning major trophies, something he struggled to do at Juventus during his final days there.
It’s also that, amid looming spectres of Antonio Conte and Zinedine Zidane, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may be under the kind of pressure he wouldn’t have been otherwise. While he did sign a new three-year deal recently, the Allegri saga in Turin tells us that clubs are prone to making rash decisions when they have Ronaldo in the squad. There is no scope for building. The added attention must be pounced upon.
Given there are already valid concerns at to Solskjaer’s ability to take United to the next level and form a system that allows United to break big teams down, rather than solely relying on counter-attacks or moments of individual brilliance, they are only likely to be exacerbated by the added attention.
Cristiano Ronaldo makes clubs act strangely. Solskjaer could soon experience that first hand unless he can win now. If he doesn’t, history could indeed repeat itself.
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