Somethings are just meant to be..Clive Tyldesley after Cristiano Ronaldo missed his penalty during the penalty shootout vs Chelsea in the 2008 Champions League final
Fortunately for Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo‘s penalty miss did not lead to them missing out on a famous night in Moscow. Manchester United completed the double that day – Premier League and Champions League winners in 2007-2008. A year later, they came ever so close, yet so far away from retaining the Champions League title. Sadly for the Red Devils, they were outclassed by Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona in Rome. A few weeks later, Cristiano Ronaldo left for Real Madrid to fulfill his dream of wearing the famous white kit.
Rumors of a famous comeback to Old Trafford had become a regular thing during his final years at Real Madrid, and perhaps all hopes of a ‘homecoming’ were squashed when decided to quit Real Madrid to join Juventus. Manchester United had hired Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer to take over the reins at United and to clean the mess they had created since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. After an average and just above average performance both on and off the pitch, Manchester United seemed to have sorted their business out in the boardrooms and had one of the best transfer windows since Sir Alex had retired 8 years ago after they secured the services of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane. A holding midfielder seemed to be the missing piece in the jigsaw Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer was trying to solve.
Only a couple of days ago, we at United Journal had pointed out how Manchester United’s spine wasn’t strong enough to complete for the major titles in Europe and England. Instead of adding a holding midfielder to knit the game together, they have gone ahead and re-signed their prodigal son – Cristiano Ronaldo.
Why? What happened? What changed? Did Manchester United change their minds again? While the transfer window provides a whole lot of chaos, and drama each season, and there’s no denying this one this summer has been baffling at times. Manchester United ended up signing Cristiano Ronaldo yesterday, but only 24 hours prior to that announcement, Ronaldo going to Manchester City to play at the Etihad was a real possibility. As reported by The Athletic, Manchester City was in contact with Juventus and Ronaldo’s agent to bring the Manchester United legend to lead the frontline at The Etihad. So what do you do as a club, or as a manager when your most famous player (arguably) is thinking of joining your city rivals in search of a club to play for in, maybe, his last years as a professional player at the highest level?
“The Ultimate Betrayal” was doing rounds on social media. It just didn’t feel right for anyone associated with the red half of Manchester. Cristiano Ronaldo’s name was engraved in the United’s museum, and among the Old Trafford folklore. United fans continued to sing Viva Ronaldo, long after he had left running down the wing at Old Trafford, hoping he would hear United sing, while he ran down the wing at the Bernabéu, and then at the Allianz/Juventus Stadium. Not sure if those at Stretford End would have sung their hearts, and lungs out for their prodigal son, playing in a blue kit. Yes, the move to Manchester City was a real possibility, but thanks to a few good men – those including ex-teammates, and in Cristiano’s words, his father in football – Sir Alex Ferguson, Ronaldo had a change of heart, and what seemed like a done deal for the blue half of Manchester, is in reality, a done deal for the red half of Manchester.
Some things are just meant to be.
There’s no denying that the hole in the midfield continues to exist, and in Cristiano, Manchester United are simply covering the patch, but they are doing so with a world-class player. The signing of Cristiano Ronaldo not only lifts the spirits of Manchester United supporters, but will have a huge impact on the dressing room, and his presence will rub off the likes of Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood, who are supposed to take the baton and lead the United frontline for years to come. As pointed out, this hole in midfield would have posed a serious threat to Manchester United’s chances to win major silverware, but they have given themselves a chance with Cristiano’s signing. One just cannot write off one of the greatest players to have ever played the game, and who has proved his mettle in 4 different leagues, including the one he’s going to return to.
So what now? In Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United has secured the services of one of the most lethal goalscorers in world football, but will be able to contribute the same way all those years ago? Real Madrid with Cristiano Ronaldo achieved something that was unthinkable – 3 consecutive Champions League titles are a joke and something that has never been done in the modern Champions League era. If you haven’t followed Cristiano’s career closely in the last few years since he moved to Juventus, you can be forgiven to think he’s not had the same impact that he had at Real Madrid where he won 4 Champions League titles. A closer look at his statistics of the last few years would tell you that even though Juventus underperforming on the continental level (and domestically last year), Ronaldo managed to score 101 times in 134 games. A bit less maybe for Cristiano Ronaldo’s standards, but those are a lot of goals playing at the highest level for the best team in Italy.
..but again, seriously, what now? How does Cristiano Ronaldo help Manchester United? Does his signing now confirm Manchester United’s status as serious title contenders? Can they go from maybe challenging for the title to seriously challenge for the title?
A week ago, Manchester United legend Gary Neville had publicly pointed out his astonishment on Monday Night Football, at United not going full throttle to sign Harry Kane. His stance was clear. Manchester United should be in to sign a top striker who guarantees 20-30 goals a season. No forward in the United attack came close to score 20 goals last season.
Even at 36 years of age (and turning 37 in February 2022), Ronaldo’s powers are not diminishing. He was the top goalscorer at the recently concluded European Championships and was the highest goalscorer in Serie A for a Juventus team that finished 4th last season. With the likes of Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford on the wing, Ronaldo will have a lot of pace around him, accompanied by that of his own to pose a regular and a serious threat to the opposition goal. United fans can be forgiven to salivate thinking of the kind of linkup Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo can come up with. Both Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes have some sublime passes up in their armory, and so does Luke Shaw.
With Cristiano Ronaldo’s game intelligence, and pace, and power, and heading ability (to name a few of his strengths), Ole Gunnar has to ensure his team plays around Ronaldo’s strengths. Ole can look at Ronaldo’s last three seasons at Juventus to identify the mistakes Maurizio Sarri and Andrea Pirlo committed on the tactics board, and that on the pitch, and work with his staff that those are not repeated at Old Trafford. Even though Ronaldo was the top scorer in Serie A, his influence on the pitch was limited, and it was often viewed as if Juventus played games with 10 men. That is no surprise though. Even in his first stint at United, Sir Alex Ferguson and his team knew he was better off doing all the attacking, and not contributing to his side defensively. That was 12 years ago. Not much has changed, apart from the fact that Ronaldo is 12 years older now, and using him to track back the opposition midfielder, to help his team defensively won’t help the cause. Ole and United will have to deal with this drawback that comes along, but in Ronaldo, they have one of the most potent goalscorers the game has ever seen, and using his strengths wisely will be highly beneficial to Manchester United.
Off the pitch, it is a belief among the coaching staff at United, that Ronaldo will not only bring a lot of goals to the squad, but his experience, professionalism, and work ethic will rub off the younger players, and in Cristiano, the United frontline, and youngsters, especially, Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford, and Jadon Sancho have the best mentor to learn from and master their craft.
Now, Manchester United has shown their hand. They have arguably had their best summer transfer window for a long long time, and that includes the time when Sir Alex was in charge. One can go on and on, pondering when was the last time the likes of Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane, and Cristiano Ronaldo walked through the door at Carrington for training to play for Manchester United, at Old Trafford, in a single transfer window. Try thinking.
While you think of the past, also think of the future, and of the next matchday, when Manchester United will host their next opponent, when Cristiano Ronaldo will walk through the tunnel (as a starter or as a sub), to hear a roar at Old Trafford to welcome back their hero. It has been a tough 18 months for the entire world, but Manchester United supporters will welcome this path their beloved club is on.
Ole has been at the wheel for a couple of years now. He now has the engine to go full speed ahead and achieve success with this team, where surely failure will not be accepted.