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Why Cristiano Ronaldo belongs in Manchester United's past and not their future

Cristiano Ronaldo looks set to depart Juventus in the summer.
Cristiano Ronaldo looks set to depart Juventus in the summer.
Mark Pitman
EXPERT COLUMNIST
Modified 29 Apr 2021
Feature

Cristiano Ronaldo won every major domestic honour with Manchester United and played a leading role in an era that culminated in UEFA Champions League and FIFA World Club Cup success. However, the Portuguese superstar turned 36 earlier this year, and even his enigmatic genius cannot stop the cruel hands of time.

It now appears that the five-time FIFA Ballon d'Or winner may not add to his personal haul of the most-coveted individual trophies in the world game. While he may not like to admit it, he may no longer match the level he showed in his prime when he and nemesis Lionel Messi pushed each other to unparalleled heights.

Cristiano Ronaldo and a career defined by the glory

It has been a tough season for Juventus under manager Andrea Pirlo, and it seems the former midfield maestro may not be afforded a second campaign.

The Serie A title is on the cusp of being surrendered after nine consecutive years of success as Cristiano Ronaldo failed to repeat the influential performances that have defined his career highs.

From dominating Europe with Real Madrid to leading Portugal to glory at UEFA EURO 2016, Cristiano Ronaldo has delivered success throughout his career. While Sporting Lisbon provided a platform in his formative years, it was under Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United that he truly caught the attention of the sporting world and never looked back.

Cristiano Ronaldo attracted worldwide attention during his at Manchester United
Cristiano Ronaldo attracted worldwide attention during his stint at Manchester United

So far, that is. Cristiano Ronaldo can realistically command only one more lucrative contract to finish his career at the very highest level.

Media reports have linked the Portuguese talisman with a return to Old Trafford. While there is a romantic subplot to the beauty of him once again wearing the shirt in front of the Stretford End, there is an ugly commercial reality lurking under the surface.

Of course, the Glazer family are in desperate need of a positive announcement to appease the Manchester United faithful following the widely-despised and ultimately failed Super League project. Delivering the return of one of their all-time heroes in the twilight of his career might tick the right boxes on paper, but such gifts only strengthen a mentality that is tarnishing the modern game.

Controversy at Manchester United

Avram and Joel Glazer are part of a controversial ownership reign at Manchester United.
Avram and Joel Glazer are part of a controversial ownership reign at Manchester United.

Popularity cannot be bought. While the Glazers have come to Manchester United to make money and not friends, the correlation between fans and financial success was more apparent than ever before when the club's share price dropped following the negative reaction to the Super League proposal and the role of the club in the controversial plan.

Cristiano Ronaldo is guaranteed to sell shirts, but he is not guaranteed to deliver trophies at this stage of his career. Acquiring his signature will not come cheap, and his commercial value off the field now exceeds his economic worth on it. He is simply not the missing piece in manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's tactical puzzle.

Cristiano Ronaldo would embrace another opportunity to perform in the English Premier League, as it remains a lucrative platform to promote his brand around the world while ensuring he remains relevant as a sporting icon. He will be keen to distance himself from the failings suffered in Turin this season, and he will appreciate the protection of a club that remains bigger than any individual.

The connection between Cristiano Ronaldo and Manchester United remains strong, and his character is humble enough to appreciate the bond that exists between him and the fans. While his ego has propelled him to the top of the world game, there is a certain grounding to his persona that was clearly instilled in him before fame and fortune distorted the world in which he now lives.

Cristiano Ronaldo and a potential Manchester United return

Cristiano Ronaldo has won the UEFA Champions League on five occasions.
Cristiano Ronaldo has won the UEFA Champions League on five occasions.

If Cristiano Ronaldo returns to Old Trafford this summer, it will take considerable financial investment from the board that would limit the opportunity for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to strengthen specific areas he may have already targeted. However, few managers are in the position to turn down a player like Cristiano Ronaldo, though.

Reports of a possible move to Paris Saint-Germain are financially inevitable, but winning domestic honours in France at this stage of his career would not inspire Cristiano Ronaldo. With Manchester United, there is a deeper meaning, a deep-rooted connection to past success, but the chance of emulating that former glory is extremely slim.

Cristiano Ronaldo captained Portugal to European glory in 2016.
Cristiano Ronaldo captained Portugal to European glory in 2016.

Cristiano Ronaldo achieved success with Manchester United over a decade ago, and it was a glorious period in his career that shaped his future success. That time has passed, and both parties now need to move forward in different directions rather than take a nostalgic trip back in time.

The Glazers should now be more aware than ever before following the Super League fiasco that commercial success does not necessarily correlate with sporting glory. A longer-term plan is required to build on what progress has been made by Manchester United this season, and big short-term signings do not fit that agenda.

As desperate as the Super League

Cristiano Ronaldo (right) and nemesis Lionel Messi have dominated the world game.
Cristiano Ronaldo (right) and nemesis Lionel Messi have dominated the world game.

Cristiano Ronaldo is cutting a frustrated figure, as Juventus have fail to deliver the success he has become accustomed to during his career. But rather than point blame, he must also use this experience as an acceptance that his time at the very top is coming to an end.

A return to Manchester United now would be nothing but a desperate reaction on Cristiano Ronaldo's part to accept the situation and a desperate reaction from the Glazers to try and deliver success on the field while maximising a commercial opportunity off it.

Just like the Super League, it seems the reality could be very different from the vision, though.

Published 28 Apr 2021
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