- Cristiano Ronaldo left Manchester United after his contract was terminated by mutual consent
- His contributions to the club were minimal
- Without him, Manchester United would be a better team
Cristiano Ronaldo left Manchester United after his contract was terminated by mutual consent after much fanfare when he returned to English football.
While his contributions to the club were minimal in his first stint, his second stint has been nothing short of a disaster. Many United fans are eager to sweep away a glittering icon from their past, one who became persona non grata at the start of their bright future.
When he joined the club, it was clear that United needed a centre-forward. With Edinson Cavani leaving on a free transfer last summer and Mason Greenwood suspended from the first-team squad, Erik Ten Hag’s appointment made that need even more pressing.
Marcus Rashford has played in the position, but his strengths are better utilized elsewhere. In contrast, Anthony Martial impressed in the role in the preseason and has done so for periods this season but has struggled with fitness. Ronaldo has been United’s most consistent striker option, but he has underperformed due to his inability to fulfil the profile of line leader Ten Hag requires.
United require a box presence in their centre forward, someone who can occupy central defenders and act as a focal point for attacks in the final third. They must be able to receive the ball with their back to goal and link play in the early phases of possession, not as a creative presence but as a facilitator of basic ball movement. They must be capable of leading a press and understanding when and where to position themselves when the opposition is attempting to build.
Why the Reunion Never Worked
Ronaldo let United down on all fronts. He has been used as a wide forward or in a front two but never as a central striker. His game was about fluidity, grabbing space wherever he could and influencing the game with his blistering pace, dribbling, and power. Rather than staying in the box for long periods, his goal-scoring was based on creating shots off the dribble or running onto through-balls and crosses.
Any game observer can see that Ronaldo, at 37 years old, no longer possesses the same technical ability. Despite this, he has done little to adapt his game. His movements on and off the ball remain broadly consistent, and he does not appear willing to consistently occupy the space between centre-backs and play on the opposing defence’s last line.
Even though he is still a talented ball header, he is not used to using his physicality and strength to match up against centre-backs and function as a valid number nine.
Ronaldo is usually partnered by a genuine striker who can maintain that kind of presence, whether it’s Karim Benzema at Real Madrid, Andre Silva for Portugal, or Mario Mandzukic and Alvaro Morata at Juventus. As a result, for United, he either drifted wide to receive the ball in a secluded area or dropped deep.
There were two issues with this. First, the player’s absence occupying defenders in the box allows the opposing backline to push higher and squeeze the space between the lines. Second, with Ronaldo dropping deep, United became congested in the middle, with players like Bruno Fernandes, Christian Eriksen, and Jadon Sancho clustered and negating each other’s effectiveness by denying each other the space to flourish.
Out of Position Ronaldo
Managers and players were correct in the past to accommodate Ronaldo’s tendency to drift due to the value he brought in possession. It weakened United’s attacking structure and hindered their chance of creation.
These are some of the reasons why, despite scoring 24 goals last season, Ronaldo still has many detractors among United fans. It was never possible for him to maintain that output level or for United to become a viable attacking unit with him on the team because his presence in the squad disrupted United’s modes of chance creation. With Ronaldo, there was no consistent method of scoring: fans had to hope that a chance would fall to him and he would score it.
Ronaldo’s finishing has also declined significantly this year. He appears to take longer to set his feet before a shot, which limits the quickness of his strikes when attempting to score. He also struggles to create his shots off the dribble, forcing him to take them from a distance where he is less under defensive pressure. It’s yet another sign of his decline and why he’s increasingly becoming a hindrance rather than a help to United’s attacking play.
Comments of Ten Hag
All of this only takes into account Ronaldo’s on-field issues. It disregards his comments about Erik ten Hag, his refusal to come on as a substitute against Tottenham Hotspur, and the shift he brought to United’s locker room. While it’s difficult to argue that the players were exceptionally well-coached under Solskjaer, they were, at the very least likeable. There was a genuine sense of cohesion and harmony in the squad, with young, ambitious players attempting to restore the club to its former glory. Ronaldo shattered the atmosphere. His obsessive desire to win as much as possible as quickly as possible, his egotism, and his unwillingness to compromise his game — once his defining strengths — became crippling weaknesses when his contribution could no longer satisfy his ambition.
When Cristiano Ronaldo rejoined the team, the club undoubtedly suffered. There is no doubt that without him, Manchester United would be a better team.