Have Manchester United made a mistake bringing back Cristiano Ronaldo?
When Manchester United sold Romelu Lukaku, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer appeared to be working towards a plan.
During his time in charge of the club, the Norwegian’s constant references to the glory days of the past may well have been jarring for many observers, with the more cynical suggesting that’s pretty much all he offers, but one thing was clear. Something similar to the floating frontline of Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez that brought Manchester United such success in the 2007/08 campaign and beyond was what he was aiming for.
With Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford and now Jadon Sancho up front, it looked as if all the plans for that were in place. Boasting Edinson Cavani, Daniel James and Antony Martial in reserve, the attacking line appeared to be a varied one.
If there has been one major criticism of Solskjaer’s tenure, it has been his inability to construct complex attacking patterns to break stubborn opposition down. Counter-attacking has rarely been a problem but trying to play through a defence has perenially undermined his attempts to win a major trophy. Why then, just as he brings in Sancho – a player capable of unlocking defences – has he moved to bring Ronaldo back?
Everything Ronaldo did offer Manchester United is gone from his game, other than the goals. Granted, that’s a huge caveat but, what was clear from his time with Juventus, is that everything simply has to revolve around him.
No longer do Manchester United have a fluid frontline, even if Sancho has yet to show his true quality in the early stages of his career at the club. Now, they have a fixed-point striker who will demand to either drift in from the left or lead the line. In a lot of games, both.
The pursuit of what Ronaldo – in his Manchester United prime – offered made logical sense. Both Liverpool and Manchester City have won the Premier League using similar systems over the last few years and the profile of their leading attackers seemed perfectly suited to such an approach.
The signing of him makes little sense, aside from the obvious commercial opportunities.
81 goals across three seasons with Juventus was certainly an impressive record. Those strikes, however, came at the expense of the rest of the team. From a footballing perspective, his 2018 arrival set the Italian giants back so much that they eventually gave up a league title they had won for seven seasons on the trot.
Having reached two Champions League finals in the two years before the move, Juve were knocked out in the last-16 by the likes of Lyon and Porto. That is not progress.
When so much is put through one man (who simply doesn’t press) there must be something that gives elsewhere in the team. Even before his signing, there were question marks about United’s strength in central midfield which will surely now be exacerbated by effectively losing another line of pressing.
The one plan Solskjaer had is already up in smoke. The fluidity he wanted (having tried for two years to get Sancho signed) dried up as soon as the ink on the agreement to bring Ronaldo back was spread across the paperwork. He wanted what Ronaldo offered. Ronaldo himself, at this stage of his career, cannot offer that to Manchester United.
A goal without a plan is just a wish. At the expense of a method, United chose nostalgic vibes. Something only measured in social media engagements and Ronaldo’s personal goal tally.
It can be equally true that Solskjaer now looks further away than ever in his attempts to make a serious play of taking this United team to the next level and that Ronaldo will score goals. Everything we saw in Italy points to that Manchester United have one of their greatest ever players back at the club. It just doesn’t look worth it.
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