Since Real Madrid’s £80m swoop on Cristiano Ronaldo, I’ve read plenty of responses by United supporters insisting this was a positive move for the team. Man U is not one player. We’ve got 80m to spend. We’re fine. No, really.
While the Ronaldo move was inevitable and £80m is a handsome bundle of cash to take in, I cannot accept the idea that United are better off without him. Don’t get me wrong: he was going to leave no matter what and with the chance to secure such a huge amount of money for his release, nobody can fault Sir Alex or United for the move.
But while United is not just one player (an obvious notion in a team sport), we can all agree, this particular player was a pivotal cog in the trophy-winning machine.
Look at it this way: Giggs is fading. Scholes is fading. Ronaldo is gone.
Three players who have shaped Manchester United’s form and directly fed their winning fires will no longer be able to exert their influence to the full extent the Red Devils have enjoyed for so long.
Manchester are still bursting with top talent, but none of their players, save perhaps Rooney, can change a match the way Ronaldo, Giggs and Scholes have done so consistently for United.
Replacing Ronaldo (or Giggs, or Scholes) is a Himalayan task no matter how many millions of pounds one has in the kitty. How often did his dead ball kicks seem a foregone conclusion? How often did he create that critical spark in motion to carve out a chance from the deepest of dead ends? From his ability to twist a ball around the wall from daunting distances and angles, sending that heat-seeking missile to its preordained home to his ability to dance through defenses and set up the perfect service or goal in nearly any circumstance makes him one of an elite few.
The act of finding someone that good who is established and prying him away from their club exists in a sliver of likelihood. And finding an unknown who happens to blossom into the next C. Ronaldo will be an expensive spin of the roulette wheel. Fergie could feasibly strike oil again as he did with Ronaldo, unproven when he joined United, but even if he is so fortunate, any new promising signing will take time to blossom into greatness, if at all.
Right now the £80m is merely potential energy. Ronaldo was proven beyond all doubt.
Fergie will spend the fresh cash. And he’ll get quality for it. But I doubt he’ll find anything on the level of Ronaldo. If he is so fortunate, though, we cannot say Manchester United are better off until the deal is actually made. For now: they are not.
Yes, Ronaldo was just one part of the team. But just as Liverpool don’t want to play without Torres or Gerrard, Chelsea don’t want to play without Lampard, and Arsenal have not looked as imposing since Henry’s departure, sometimes that one part of the team is the consummate talisman, a lighting rod who channels an essential spark for those around him.
United need lighting to strike again. Until then they are worse off from this unavoidable transfer than they’d like us to believe.