KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Ronaldo and Manchester United is a perfect marriage which has been revived after a 12-year separation.
The 36-year-old’s return to Old Trafford has recreated the most high-profile player/club partnership in world football. Each needed the other.
Years ago veteran superstars would look to wind down their careers in the lands of easy money. But Ronaldo does not need the money. He is investing his self-belief and remarkable fitness in the pursuit of more goals and trophies in the most competitive of leagues and with the World Cup at the end of 2022 as the pinnacle of his two-year contract.
United need Ronaldo not only for his proven goal-scoring genius but to polish a commercial image whose value for 40-plus worldwide sponsors had begun to fail after a trophy-less four years.
Ronaldo arrived back in England too late to feature in United’s fortunate 1:0 win at Wolves. He can use Portugal’s World Cup ties against Ireland and Azerbaijan to warm up ahead of a second United debut at home to Newcastle on September 11.
Mason Greenwood scored a late winner after an unimpressive performance in which Raphael Varane made his debut and Jadon Sancho his first start. Ex-United captain Roy Keane, a Sky TV analyst, said: “I hope Ronaldo wasn’t watching. He might call it all off.”
Speculation about Ronaldo’s departure from Juventus began after their away-goals exit against Porto after a 4:4 aggregate draw in the second round of last season’s Champions League. Juve had won two Serie A titles in the seasons after his 2018 move from Real Madrid but a third was already looking beyond them.
Ronaldo, as ruthless off the pitch as on it, knew he could not afford to waste any more career time in Serie A. Hence initial links with Real Madrid and talk of Paris Saint-Germain. But Madrid wanted a rejuvenation with Kylian Mbappe and PSG snapped up Leo Messi. Manchester United were curious but talks with super-agent Jorge Mendes were merely informal.
Juventus’ acceptance of Ronaldo’s imminent departure was clear from his selection only as a substitute for last weekend’s Serie A opener against Udinese. Mendes offered Ronaldo to Manchester City after their failure to land Harry Kane. Ronaldo was interested but City dithered over contract details and left time and space for United to pounce. They have agreed €8m rising to €15m including add-ons.
On Friday, when manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hailed Ronaldo as “the greatest player of all time” and “a tremendous human being”, a two-year contract worth €14m had been agreed. All that remained was for Sir Alex Ferguson to persuade Ronaldo that he should ‘come home’ to Old Trafford.
Ferguson had brought Ronaldo to United as a precocious 18-year-old in 2003 and had tutored him into becoming one of the greatest players in football history. The mutual respect is powerful. Ferguson had become a United director on his retirement in 2013 out of recognition for his achievements. Now the value of that appointment had been revealed.
Ronaldo’s record is outstanding: 32 national and international trophies with Sporting Clube, United, Madrid and Juventus and 783 senior career goals for clubs and Portugal.
Returning to the Premier League is the acid test. He will certainly score goals against the likes of Newcastle, Norwich, Burnley and Watford but whether he can score the title-winning goals which matter against City, Liverpool and Chelsea is in doubt. After all, Ronaldo could not score the goals which Juventus had expected would win them the Champions League.
Ronaldo’s arrival puts heavy pressure on Solskjaer. He knows Ronaldo well. Briefly they were team-mates together and then Solskjaer was on Ferguson’s coaching staff. The same goes for assistant Michael Carrick and technical director Darren Fletcher. If Ronaldo fails to deliver the trophies then the blame will not be his but will land squarely on the shoulders of Solskjaer and the coaching staff.
United’s set-up under Solskjaer suits Ronaldo They already play a counter-attacking style built on individuals who can make a difference such as Portugal team-mate Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba. Ronaldo can continue playing the way he did when scoring 101 goals in 134 games for Juventus: as a single-minded goal poacher.
There may be some unrest. For example, Ronaldo will expect to take over the set-pieces from Fernandes while Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial may spend more time on the substitutes’ bench than they want.
United finished second last season and have added not only Ronaldo but Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane. Over the past five seasons they have spent a net £500m and have the third-highest wage bill in the Premier League. There will be no more excuses for Solskjaer if United do not win the league and go a long way in the Champions League.
** Tottenham led the Premier League ahead of the international break after a 1-0 home win over Watford with a first-half goal from Heung-min Son.