Cristiano Ronaldo may be 36, but he would solve a number of problems for Manchester United if he makes a late switch from Juventus.
Up until Friday lunchtime it appeared as if Manchester City would win the race for the Portugal international. It would have given them their first superstar signing, to lend credibility to their continued struggle to be taken seriously as a real club. It would have likely matched or exceeded the goals they had been expecting from Harry Kane. It would have made them clearcut favourites for the Champions League, to give Pep Guardiola something of a legacy at the Etihad. More important than that, of course, it would have been a chance for them to upset United and their fans.
Football is, despite all the money involved, a sport motivated in large part by pettiness. There would be few better ways to wind up City’s neighbours by seizing their best-ever player and giving him yet more trophies, ones that some United fans will have dreamt of seeing him win again in a United shirt.
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That has fallen through, now, with United confirming a deal has been done to bring Ronaldo back to the Premier League. Just as he would have for City, he addresses a number of pressing troubles at Old Trafford.
One practical advantage for United is that Ronaldo’s arrival lessens the need to deal with Mino Raiola again next summer. As Erling Haaland’s broker, he would have been due an exacting sum for giving his blessing for a move from Borussia Dortmund to United. Given Haaland has a release clause of around £75 million, you can well believe Raiola would have demanded his own hefty cut. Not only that, he would likely have agitated for another profitable move every single season until he got one. You don’t sign Raiola players – you borrow them.
Ronaldo though will fulfil the same role as Haaland. A powerful and imposing goal machine, ready to be the focal point of a team, who demands attention and responsibility with confidence.
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Linked to Raiola as well is the presence of Paul Pogba. By taking the expensive Ronaldo off Juventus’ hands, the Italian side could perhaps be tempted to make a play for Pogba now, to prevent the club losing him for nothing to Paris Saint-Germain. There’s a slim chance of that of course, but Ronaldo’s arrival could tempt Pogba – a marketing asset and occasionally a brilliant footballer – to stay, and it would also soften the blow of his probable exit next summer.
Ronaldo would also give United the chance to solve one of their biggest problems, which is their inability to break down sides who are happy to sit back. While Ronaldo is not a brilliant playmaker, he is an exceptionally effective target man and a player who attracts the ball in the box. With his movement and experience, with Pogba, Bruno Fernandes, Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood all potentially on the pitch with him, he will doubtless be the man to break down some massed defences.
One player who might not make the most of him though is Anthony Martial. Just as Pogba can be moved on with less fanfare if Ronaldo arrives, Martial is almost entirely redundant if another striker is brought in. While Edinson Cavani can’t be relied upon to fulfil striking duties consistently because of his injury record, Ronaldo has been available for almost every game, every season, regardless of his age. Inter Milan have been linked with Martial, and United will presumably need to move at least one player on in order to make sure they can afford him. Daniel James is another player who is likely not needed, and perhaps Juan Mata will find himself unexpectedly moved on in what was going to be his final season. Getting rid of the deadwood has been an essential task for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for a couple of years, and this would make the process yet more pressing.
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For Solskjaer it would also make United undeniable title challengers. For all City’s sophistication, Chelsea’s ballast and Liverpool’s determination, it would be hard to see past Ronaldo wanting to drag United back to winning as his last achievement in European football. At 36, he would have maybe one or two more years at his current level of performance before he presumably earns a huge wedge in MLS before retirement.
There are other benefits. He would give United some of their old confidence back, he would give the beancounters something to build on and exploit, and he would show the younger players how to keep themselves in shape to maintain their careers. Of course, for that money and with his advancing age, it is not a transfer without risk. It is still clearly a gamble worth taking.
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Source: Euro Sports