Do Manchester United really need Cristiano Ronaldo back?
Many Manchester United fans would take him back in a heartbeat. He is after all, still the apple of their eyes. Another section of the crowd, though, do not want him back. He had left them in his prime and the club has not been able to reciprocate the success with him in the team. They are burnt, still nursing a heartache and absolutely hate the routine rumours that surface every transfer season.
Love him or hate him, 9 years since his record-breaking move from Manchester United to Real Madrid, no transfer season is complete without rumours of Cristiano Ronaldo coming back home to Old Trafford. For most United fans the anticipation throughout the transfer season is murderous. Even before the transfer season starts, there are reports of dissent within the ranks of Santiago Bernabeu. He is on the verge of coming home, reports emerging from Madrid say, which add wind to the sail of the Red Devils fans. But, as always, it does not take long for the flame to fizz out. Every time, the transfer season ends without the homecoming.
Most United fans are used to this now and have their expectations at an all-time low. However, with reports emerging that the Juventus deal is all but done, United fans cannot help but feel a bit disheartened. To make matters worse, counter reports are also emerging that United are looking to hijack the deal and bring him home. Amid this see-saw of emotions in the transfer window, many United fans are still hoping against hope that like with Paul Pogba, the prodigal son will finally return home. This is where the actual question arises – do Manchester United really need Cristiano Ronaldo?
The record is out there for everyone to see. 915 all-time career appearance, 658 goals and 205 assists, which means that he has had some kind of involvement in a goal in almost every game. 5 Ballon d’Ors, a zeal to succeed unlike any other, larger than life personality. Any team would be lucky to have him. He would be an automatic starter in almost every team in the world. However, the situation at United is a bit different.
The first question that arises is what position he plays in. Ronaldo likes to drift in from the left of the front three in a 3 man attacking system or is a target man in any other systems. Ever since he lost a bit of his pace, he had remodeled his gameplay into more of a poacher in the box. His goal scoring prowess is still unparalleled in the world. However, United have no dearth of talent in both positions. Arguably, Romelu Lukaku is on his way to creating magic with numbers, he has pace, age and the physic in his side. Dislodging him from the team will not be beneficial for the future, especially since Ronaldo is not getting younger. On the left side, since United have not been playing with traditional wingers, Ronaldo is still good enough to start as well. But you would have to think that he will not match the work ethics of an Alexis Sanchez or Marcus Rashford. Rashford will hope to emulate the legacy of Ronaldo at United, so it is arguable that limiting the youngster’s chances will not be in the best interests of United.
The second point to ponder on is the future. Manchester United are still in a process of building a team that would dominate for years, as teams of the yesteryear have done so successfully. Ronaldo is, after all, a temporary fix, a momentary solution. A move would almost ascertain trophies but with his age, Ronaldo could even be a little of a risk for United. It would seem that his game has diminished since the start of last season and he is no longer the terrifying prospect of his younger years. Since the calendar year 2013, when he notched up 69 goals and 17 assists in 59 appearances, thus contributing (with goals and assists) to 1.46 goals per game, 2017 was his lowest return with a whopping 53 goals and 13 assists in 60 games. That still meant that he had a hand in 1.10 goals per game, but skeptics would notice a downward slide. United have no one in the current team even near him at present, unfortunately, but getting him would mean reduced game times to the younger talents at their disposal. Marcus Rashford, Antony Martial, and even Romelu Lukaku have age on their side. While they would learn a lot from Ronaldo, his arrival would definitely mean that one of the former two would leave.
The third issue is the amount of money involved. The insane amount might be recovered by shirt sells alone, but this is an investment with no resale value. United have been ferociously nifty while signing or extending contracts of players above 30 years old. As such, a move would be a deviation from their policy. However, his arrival would be a fascinating prospect to United's marketing team and would also strengthen United's hold as the most popular club in the world. But the transfer amount and the mammoth salary would represent a risk of gigantic proportions. A fairy tale does have its costs, but with a maximum of two complete seasons of prolific football remaining in him, would it be worth the price? Because it would mean that there would not be money left to fund any other transfers.
Which brings us to the fourth point, which would be the requirement of United to strengthen in other positions. A right winger or right inverted winger who likes to drift in is the absolute need of the hour and for the whole of last season, fans were left wondering how much better things would have been if only Perisic would have arrived. There is still the need of the Croatian winger, but prising him away from Inter who are already rebuilding themselves would be next to impossible. Ronaldo hardly puts in crosses in the box, averaging 0.2 crosses per game last season. With a powerful presence like Lukaku and in the later stages of the game, Fellaini, players who can put in deft crosses are the prime requirement for United. Then there is the recurring issue of the fullbacks. When playing with two holding midfielders, the speed and precision of attacking fullbacks is indispensable. Valencia and Young, both converted wingers, have been decent last season, but they are reaching the twilight of their careers. The upcoming season could be make or break for Luke Shaw as such, and with Diego Dalot arriving, United still need another fullback to come in and hit the ground running. Ideally, United need one world class fullback, one world class right winger and cover for the aging Nemanja Matic in the middle, all of which are vital if United want to compete in Europe and domestic front next season. None of these will come cheap, but they represent money better invested. These are certainly more pressing issues, addressing which would make United a far better team than one prolific signing alone.
The last point to debate on is the style of play of United. Manchester United under Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid under Zinedine Zidane play completely different football. Zidane is gone now, but would Mourinho’s pragmatic approach to entice Ronaldo? There is a whole new article on that. Also, Ronaldo does have the tendency to seek personal accolades and often tries to go for goal himself even when a teammate is in a better position. However, he did display tremendous team spirit in the 16/17 season when Real went on to lift the La Liga trophy. Also, his assists ratio has been pretty decent for a centerforward all through his career, averaging 0.22 assists per game till date. But most importantly, the current United team do not have the personnel to complement Ronaldo's style of play. Will the egos of Pogba, Sanchez and Ronaldo work well in the locker room? As statistics will show, Ronaldo does not dive into tackles, he does very little defensive work. When United are battling out a slender 1-0 lead in a cold rainy night in stoke, with their back against the wall defending typical Mourinho style, will Ronaldo put in a shift? He will be invaluable in counter attack, but would Mourinho allow that?
Only time will tell whether Cristiano Ronaldo will end up in Manchester United or prefer a move to Juventus. It is true that his arrival would mean the floodgate of goals would open up for United. However, even though his signing alone can make United a better team, without other investments, it will not be enough for United to compete next season. United could go for him, let a few youngsters leave and have two successful seasons. But two seasons later, they would be in even deeper waters. The need of the hour at Manchester United is to rebuild, with youth. So, if he does move to Turin, though there is no need for United fans to despair. They must believe that they are better off without him. Yes, the fairy tale probably ends there and all the years of wait (for many fans) would end in sorrow. On the other hand, It may be noted that Juventus do not necessarily have to financial strength of Manchester United. As such, paying for Ronaldo’s transfer fees and his estimated colossal salary would require them to offload some of their own players. Among the many stars in their ranks, is a young Argentinian playmaker, full of silky skills and an already established rapport on the field with a certain Paul Pogba (from his Juventus days). Paulo Dybala has had a fabulous season, scoring 26 goals in 48 games, does not turn 25 until November of this year and most importantly, likes to drift in from the right wing.