Stay or leave? The uncertain future of Ronaldo at Manchester United

STEVE DOUGLAS, AP Sports Writer

Cristiano Ronaldo’s weekly social media posts this season have usually shown the soccer superstar half-clothed, with bulging muscles, either working out or promoting one of his many brands.

Staying relevant and highly visible is clearly so important for a player who is, along with Lionel Messi, the best of his generation. This also applies to the last years of his career on the field.

That’s why it’s not enough for Ronaldo, 37, to play for Manchester United – still one of the world’s most famous sports teams, despite a recent trophy drought. He wants to compete on the biggest stage and win the biggest trophies while he can.

Hence the current stalemate with United, which is more damaging and disruptive as the days pass and the new season approaches.

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Publicly, Ronaldo has yet to return to pre-season training with the English club for what have been described as “personal reasons”. Recently hired United manager Erik ten Hag is repeating almost daily that Ronaldo is expected to return before the start of the Premier League and will be a key member of the squad.

The reality, it seems, is different. Ronaldo reportedly wants to leave after just one season back at Old Trafford, with United no longer in the Champions League or in the form to compete with the top teams in England such as Manchester City and Liverpool. United finished sixth last season, 35 points behind first-placed City.

So, while the rest of the United squad were on tour in Thailand and Australia getting to know the Ten Hag and his methods, Ronaldo was at home in Portugal with his family while his agent Jorge Mendes shopped around. is looking for a new club for his most famous client.

There is currently no buyer.

And the Premier League season starts in about two weeks.

“I don’t know what Cristiano said to the club and the manager,” said United midfielder Bruno Fernandes, who also plays alongside Ronaldo for Portugal. “I don’t know what’s going on in his head if he wants to leave.” . I didn’t ask them that.

“For all we know,” added Fernandes, “he had some family problems, so we have to respect his space, give him space and that’s it. The only thing I asked Cristiano when he didn’t come was if everything was OK. ” with family. He told me what was going on, that’s it and nothing more.’

On the face of it, United are still keen to keep hold of Ronaldo – he was the team’s top scorer with 24 goals last season and is back in the club’s poster boy for the marketing department – and the ten-Hag described the striker as “extremely important”. with the fact that it is not for sale.

But why would other top clubs be cold to a player who is still a guaranteed source of goals and income?

Goals may be the goal of the game, but they are not necessarily enough for the modern coach. A certain level of mobility and the ability to be part of a team’s pressing game also count for a lot, and Ronaldo doesn’t offer that, even if he remains a supremely athletic player with an uncanny knack for coming to life in the penalty area. scoring from anywhere. The structure of the team needs to change to accommodate a player like the aging Ronaldo, cover up his shortcomings and the need to make him a focal point.

In short, his presence requires compromises. He is the problem and the solution.

Maybe if he stays at United, the Hag can come up with a system where Ronaldo thrives and the players around him can cover him and make the team work efficiently. That’s easier said than done.

Thomas Tuchel – the kind of manager who values ​​the team over the individual – clearly thought it was impossible, as his Chelsea side were one of the clubs Mendes was apparently talking to. There was also a glaring hole in Chelsea’s forward line when Romelu Lukaku returned to Inter Milan.

Bayern Munich is another team that has reportedly turned down the chance to sign Ronaldo. Neither Real Madrid nor Juventus wanted him back.

Ronaldo’s wage demands are likely to rule out most of the other clubs competing in this season’s Champions League, the competition in which he is the record goalscorer with 141 goals – 16 more than Messi – and for which he lives.

It leaves Ronaldo in an uncomfortable spot. Still one of the best scorers in football, but a player not wanted by the best teams.

So what comes next? An uneasy truce with United and an embarrassing return to a team playing in the Europa League and unlikely to join the Premier League title race? Or can Mendes pull a blockbuster out of the bag as he did last year when Ronaldo sealed a sensational return to England?

For his brand and his legacy, Ronaldo will want the latter, ending what has turned out to be a nostalgic project without a happy ending.

And deep down, it could also suit ten-year-old Hag, allowing him to start rebuilding United with a clean slate.

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