Why Cristiano Ronaldo should leave Manchester United and go to Real Madrid (again)

What you are about to read is pure speculation. It’s an exercise in what could happen when trying to find logic in a game (soccer) that has little and a summertime ritual (the transfer market) that often has even less. With Cristiano Ronaldo’s future seemingly up in the air with few options, it could result in a momentous return for one of the greatest players in football history.

Last year Ronaldo’s summer ended with his agent Jorge Mendes going on a virtual roadshow of European clubs to see if there was a deal to be struck. From Paris Saint-Germain to Manchester City and finally his return to Old Trafford, where he signed for Manchester United in the closing hours of the transfer window.

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The preparations were sub-optimal for everyone involved. His former club Juventus have faced a summer of financial and sporting uncertainties. United and then-manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer devised a plan to play a certain way and worked on it all summer only to rip it apart when Ronaldo landed because he’s different, especially at this stage in his career everyone else plays the game. Both clubs endured disappointing seasons and while last summer’s uncertainty wasn’t the only reason – far from it – it certainly didn’t help.

United now have a new manager, Erik ten Hag, and they are on tour in Australia to study his style of play while Ronaldo stays in Portugal to attend to a personal matter. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out, once again, that we’re in subpar territory.

Ten Hag was probably hired because of the football he played with Ajax, a proactive, fast 4-3-3 based on pressing and possession. Stylistically it represents a 180 degree turn for United from what they played for most of last season. Ten Hag himself said it would take a while to get where he wants them.

On the surface, Ronaldo fits that approach about as well as Kylie Jenner fits into a UFC octagon. With a lot of patience, preparation and prayer, it could just work, but realistically you’ll only get the last of those 3 Ps. Ten Hag has been answering questions about it all summer – usually with all the enthusiasm of a man setting out to see a proctologist – and has said what’s expected of him: that Ronaldo is a “top player”, that “top player” can “contribute” and that he is “able” to fit into his system. What else can he say?

The reality is that apart from brief and quickly aborted experiments under Maurizio Sarri and Andrea Pirlo at Juventus and under interim boss Ralf Rangnick at United, Ronaldo has not played for a side playing the way Ten Hag are said to play for many years want. StatsBomb data suggests Ronaldo finished last or second to bottom in every possible pressing or counter-pressing metric last season among Premier League forwards and wingers who played at least 1,800 minutes. In fact, he has seated there every season since 2015-16, when this record starts, including his spells at Juventus and Real Madrid.

So that we understand each other. It’s not because he’s unfit or lazy; It’s just not what he’s been asked to do for most of his career. Most coaches Ronaldo has worked with have found it best to let him do his own thing up front (aka ‘scoring industrial goals’) and build the team around him. Can he reinvent himself at 37? Sure, stranger things have happened, but you wouldn’t bet on that. Not in a World Cup year. Not without a full, uninterrupted preseason. Not on a team building from scratch.

That’s why the drums have been beating all summer, hinting at a move from Manchester United, although there are two fundamental hurdles here.

one is money It’s tight everywhere (almost) and even with the 25 per cent pay cut that came automatically when United didn’t qualify for the Champions League last year and even with the option that United would change him for free, his annual salary would remain in the $25 million range, which simply means it would be out of reach for most. But with a bit of skill it can be mastered.

The other is harder. Most top clubs have, for lack of a better word, “system” managers at the top and most employ many of the concepts Ten Hag wants to adopt, from Pep Guardiola at Manchester City to Julian Nagelsmann at Bayern Munich and Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. These are guys with long-term vision who are sticking to what got them there: They won’t disassemble their setup and switch to a system that gets the best out of Ronaldo.

There are actually very few potential landing spots, clubs employing more pragmatic managers who could all of a sudden afford him. PSG with newly installed Christophe Galtier as coach and Luis Campos as sporting director might have been one but not with Kylian Mbappe staying alongside Neymar and Lionel Messi. Ronaldo has been linked with Atletico Madrid possibly because of Mendes’ ties to the club but they already have a lot of options (Alvaro Morata, Antoine Griezmann, Joao Felix, Matheus Cunha) in the forward department and definitely the marriage of Ronaldo and Diego’ Cholo” Simeone seem to be a stretch.

So why not take the exclusion process to its natural conclusion and… propose a return to Real Madrid?

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Ronaldo would get Champions League football and with it an even bigger stage. He spent a decade at the club and was very open about rejoining them last summer. There is genuine affection between him and coach Carlo Ancelotti, and Ancelotti himself is a pragmatist who is not bound by any system. It’s not the ideal tactical fit, but if there’s one man who can make it work, it’s Ancelotti. And of course there is cash available between the club missing out on Mbappe last month and Gareth Bale’s exit. Ronaldo’s relationship with club president Florentino Perez has had its ups and downs over the years, but Florentino isn’t the type to hold grudges (just ask Ancelotti).

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Rob Dawson says Erik ten Hag sees a possible future for Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United beyond next season.

Ronaldo may not be able to start every game, but with a World Cup looming in November (and the World Cup’s aftermath), that could suit him well. Karim Benzema might need to adjust his game a bit and fall lower when Ronaldo comes in, but judging from last season it’s certainly not a problem for him. (Plus he did that for years, playing Robin to his Batman when they were teammates.)

These days, Ronaldo is at his best when he starts with a hardworking center forward through the middle. Benzema’s backups – Mariano Diaz and Borja Mayoral, assuming the latter stays – are nothing special and obviously can’t do much of what Benzema does, but in a pinch they can offer the grunt work to let Ronaldo do his thing.

Vinicius might need to switch flanks, but at his age it’s not a big question. It would shorten the minutes allotted to the trio of Rodrygo, Eden Hazard and Marco Asensio but that’s no big deal and would have happened anyway if Mbappe had signed. Furthermore, Rodrygo is only 22, Hazard’s fitness is a constant doubt and Asensio, who has one year left on contract (and oddly how those things are going, is also represented by Mendes), could be out anyway.

It’s just a scenario, something that would be fun as a fan. If so, expect it to appear at the very bottom of the window. If United start well under Ten Hag (or if they’re terrible), if Ronaldo takes a pay cut and agrees to a short-term deal… why not?

https://www.espn.com/soccer/blog-marcottis-musings/story/4703934/why-cristiano-ronaldo-should-leave-manchester-united-and-go-to-real-madrid-again Why Cristiano Ronaldo should leave Manchester United and go to Real Madrid (again)

Emma Bowman

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