Less than one year after his glorious return to Old Trafford, Cristiano Ronaldo wants to leave Manchester United.
A report over the weekend by The Times stated that the Portugal international has asked the club to allow him to depart if they receive a suitable offer for him this summer. The news followed on from a meeting late last month between his agent, Jorge Mendes, and Chelsea chairman Todd Boehly.
This leaves United in a sticky spot. They could dig in their heels and keep hold of Ronaldo, but that would risk one of the biggest superstars on the planet being visibly unhappy next term. The 37-year-old is too much of a professional to down tools, particularly with the 2022 World Cup on the horizon. But is it really worth persevering with an ageing player who is out of contract next summer and no longer wants to be at Old Trafford?
Yet the timing could hardly be worse. Erik ten Hag has been planning for Ronaldo to be at the club next season. He has no doubt avoided looking for potential new recruits at centre-forward, since any incoming striker would be playing second fiddle to Ronaldo. Now he faces the prospect of beginning pre-season this week without knowing who his go-to striker will be when the Premier League campaign gets under way.
Ronaldo is said to be concerned with the direction of the club, and unconvinced by their approach to recruitment. United’s sudden fixation with signing players from the Eredivisie and/or Netherlands internationals does indeed hint at a limited scouting infrastructure.
Yet Ronaldo would surely have known the risks of staying put before last season ended. United’s absence from the next edition of Champions League was confirmed in May. It would have been much more helpful for all concerned if Ronaldo had informed the club of his wish to seek pastures new at least a month ago.
However, the thought of being without the Portugal international next term need not be a source of fear for United. Ronaldo was their top scorer last season, with Son Heung-min and Mohamed Salah the only players to find the net more often in the Premier League. But it is undeniable that United went backwards after Ronaldo re-joined the club. That is not to say he was responsible for the team’s decline, but being forced to build a side around a 37-year-old forward who does not press and lacks the mobility of old clearly had a detrimental effect on the collective.
Stylistically at least, Ronaldo does not look like a particularly good fit for a Ten Hag-coached team. Given his status, it is very difficult for any manager to leave Ronaldo out of a starting XI when he is fit. Perhaps, then, Ten Hag might privately prefer to have a different striker leading the line next term.
At the same time, United are now in a difficult position. Whereas the best run clubs are proactive in the transfer market, the Red Devils continue to find themselves reacting to events. That is less than ideal, especially when it comes to a player of Ronaldo’s standing. There were already enough issues for Ten Hag to confront at United. This is one he could have done without.