UPDATE (11/22/2022): Cristiano Ronaldo has left Manchester United by mutual consent. According to reports, Ronaldo will forfeit the estimated £16 million left on his deal in order to leave the club immediately. Guess the World Cup will be even more important to him than we initially thought.
We’ve known that the Glazers don’t care about the team and only see them as a marketing cash cow. We’ve known that United are stuck in the past (Zlatan Ibrahimovic said the same thing) and that the club’s facilities and infrastructure are in desperate need of upgrades (a process that finally started over the summer). We’ve known that he almost went to Man City last summer and that it took a last minute intervention from Sir Alex Ferguson to change his mind (although, for the record, City put out a statement a couple of days ago denying this).
What we didn’t know was just how much contempt he had for Ralf Rangnick, Erik ten Hag, and modern managers and tactics. In that vein, it’s not only clear that his homecoming was never going to work out, but that, in many ways, Ronaldo is stuck in the past every bit as much as United are.
To be honest, Piers, it’s something that I don’t understand. It’s the new coaches that are coming around, they think they find the last Coca-Cola in the desert. I don’t understand the football that invents many, many years.Cristiano Ronaldo, Interview with Piers Morgan, 2022
But I respect any coach, every different approach, different opinions, different mentality, but some points I don’t agree with. I’ve always been besides the best coaches in the world: Zidane and Ancelotti, Mourinho, Fernando Santos, Allegri.
So I have some experience because I learned from them. And when you see some coaches that are coming, that they want the revolution [in] football, I don’t agree, I have my opinion. They agree or they don’t – they disagree, but it’s part of the business because at the end of the day, I’m in a club to win, and with my experience, I want to help. Like always, and some coaches that don’t accept you and, you know, it’s part of the job.
This was, perhaps the most enlightening part of Ronaldo’s tell-all interview. There have always been questions about his suitability for a system centered around team pressing (and whether he even wanted to try and make things work).
Ten Hag demands that his attackers work hard off the ball and track back on defense to help win possession. Those qualities have never been part of Ronaldo’s game — even during his first United tenure, Ferguson often had Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez cover for Ronaldo’s defensive deficiencies so that he could concentrate on scoring goals.
Nevertheless, positioning is an important part of any pressing system, and as last year showed, Ronaldo’s still good at getting in the right place at the right time. Plus, he had plenty of young guys around him that could do the dirty work for him, freeing him up to concentrate on being in the right place at the right time for scoring opportunities.
Except United have played better without him this season. The team’s attack is more fluid with him on the bench or at home, and players don’t feel obligated to try and force the ball to him or risk letting down a player many of them idolize.
The stats have borne out his lack of work rate and pressing attempts. According to Rob Blanchette, Ronaldo is in the lowest percentile in Europe for pressures (as of October), and his average is dwarfed by the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford.
But it’s one thing to be a poor fit for a system and another to be completely dismissive of anything new because you’ve had success in the past and what to stick with what has worked. Ronaldo’s comments about coaches who think they’re the “last Coca-Cola in the desert” and want to be part of some kind of revolution in soccer that he doesn’t agree with show that he’s stuck in the past and a relic of a bygone era. Sure, there are other ways to win and be effective besides pressing — however, there’s a reason why many of the best teams in the world use some version it (most notably Man City — the team Ronaldo says he nearly joined).
But Ronaldo seems to think he can simply will it to be 2008 again. For instance, The Athletic reported in August that Ronaldo and a group of players confronted Rangnick last season about his tactics and team selection. Among other things, Ronaldo demanded that Rangnick play with two forwards up top with fellow geriatric striker Edinson Cavani slotting in beside him.
Playing two up top hasn’t been in vogue for a number of years. Yet here he was, reportedly asking the Godfather of Gegenpress to give him another Rooney or Tevez (and a much older version at that) to do the heavy lifting for him.
It was also illuminating how Ronaldo sang Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s praises during the interview, saying he thought the Norwegian did a good job and enjoyed playing for him. Perhaps that’s not a surprise, considering how Solskjær basically had to dump his plans to build around his young players and cater to Ronaldo. And Ole didn’t tell Ronaldo he had to press. What’s not to love about that?
As such, it was clear that things were never going to work out for Ronaldo and United this time around. Indeed, it’s looking like things are going to get ugly in the coming months. Reportedly, United are consulting with their lawyers and exploring their options, including terminating his deal, suing him for breach of contract, and banning him from club facilities.
Whatever happens, it’s a sad denouement to what has, otherwise, been a fantastic United career. The fans have always loved Ronaldo and have stuck by him through thick and thin. They refused to blame him for his role in getting Wayne Rooney sent off at the 2006 World Cup. They defended him when people called him a diver. Even after he left for Real Madrid in 2009, the fans continued singing his name, treating him with the type of reverence reserved for the likes or Eric Cantona.
While some are sticking with him and treating him like a whistleblower a la Rangnick or Mourinho, others understand that no one player can be bigger than the team. And after so many years of rudderless management and player power, United finally look to be building a proper foundation for future contention. If Ronaldo can’t put aside his selfishness for the sake of the team, then it’s time for him to go.
That could be easier said than done, though. Ronaldo may think he’ll have a queue of teams lining up to secure his services, but he might be in for a rude wake up call. After all, if his goal was to audition for the likes of Chelsea, Man City, or Bayern Munich or any other team with a realistic chance of winning the Champions League, then this interview will do him no favors. Not only did he demonstrate that he thinks he’s bigger than his team, but he showed he’s unwilling and unable to adapt to tactical systems that don’t suit him.
And he showed he’s willing to burn it all down if he feels wronged in any way. Good luck finding another club that will indulge you the way United has, Ronnie. Thanks for the memories, but it’s time for you to go.