It is tragic when a relationship ends but especially when one of the parties cannot accept that fact. In fact, this can be awkward and embarrassing for those involved. Once this rift hits the public eye, it can be cruel.
According to reports, Cristiano Ronaldo requested to leave Manchester United. The club will likely accept any outside offer that meets their demands. This is a major development, and Ronaldo’s camp likely does not request a transfer without interest from potential suitors.
Already, fans see signs of a messy break up between the most recognizable name in sport and one of the most recognizable clubs in the world. Since the Portuguese returned to Old Trafford in August 2021, United’s social media platforms changed. In many ways, Manchester United’s Twitter, Instagram and Facebook turned into fan tribute pages for Cristiano Ronaldo. However, like any school drama, Ronaldo has not featured in any post since June 25, 2022. Clearly, this is a stark contrast to the relentless and daily posts, which inundated the fan base with his image.
That stems from the infatuation with Ronaldo from Manchester United’s corporate side. The forward’s presence online generated unrivaled revenue from shirt sales, new followers and more just because of the aura Ronaldo carries.
The lone star
It appeared on the field, as well. In an otherwise dismal season from Manchester United, supporters and teammates heralded the star. He was United’s one bright spot in a season that started out with un-bounding hope. Those around the club regularly ask, ‘where would we be without Ronaldo?’
The club’s media department propagated that view. And, it helps when he truly is the most important player for the club each game.
His return of 24 goals in 37 appearances represents an impressive strike rate. Plus, there can be no argument those goals won matches otherwise lost. Consequently, the messaging of the club resembled one of those nauseating couples constantly publicizing their love and interdependence.
This becomes a problem when the relationship sours. Your identity becomes based upon a relationship that was only ever really an intense fling.
Cristiano Ronaldo breaks up with Manchester United
Ronaldo made his intentions clear. He does not want to spend the twilight of his career fronting an unpredictable rebuild. Besides, the team isn’t playing in the UEFA Champions League.
Commercially, his potential departure leaves Manchester United broken-hearted. The effect on the pitch could be noticeable as well. Ronaldo provided the majority of the Red Devils’ highlights this season. For one, his debut double against Newcastle United sent Old Trafford into a frenzy. Then, in the Champions League, late winners against Villarreal and Atalanta brought back the Fergie Time magic of United of the past. Finally, his hat tricks against Spurs and Norwich provided crucial points and timeless moments for United supporters.
However, sometimes when a relationship ends, you realize how much needed to be sacrificed to make things work. This relationship required work on both ends. Its likely end could be a weight off both parties’ shoulders.
At 37 years old, Cristiano Ronaldo is still a freak of nature. Even then, his best days dominating in Europe are behind him. Goal-scoring still drives his play and his desire to further his legacy. Statistics published by The Athletic show Ronaldo averaged 3.9 shots per game and under-performed his xG by around three goals.
The majority of his touches were on the left side of the pitch, confirming what was obvious to observant spectators. He is not an effective central focal point. Famously, he is the least diligent forward in the Premier League at pressing defenders. This past season, he averaged just 2.7 pressures per 90 minutes. To put that into perspective, Liverpool’s Diogo Jota averages 20.
Working to fit Ronaldo in
Accommodations can be made in tactical systems to make allowances for a player with these shortcomings with such outstanding goal scoring attributes. However, more narrative transpired suggesting Ronaldo is a difficult personality to manage for Manchester United. He played a divisive role in a previously harmonious dressing room. The Portuguese captain expects to play every minute of every game, as his legacy would suggest. Attempts to leave him on the side-lines generally met ‘hip flexor’ issues and trips back to Portugal.
There were regular public shows of dissent and frustration to both teammates and management. Harry Maguire’s position as captain has been a constant cause for debate both internally and externally. Ronaldo reportedly questioned his suitability for the role. Playing second fiddle to Ronaldo has been detrimental to Bruno Fernandes. Jadon Sancho struggled with occupying the same spaces. Of course, a lot of these issues also stem from poor management and lack of structure or any clear patterns of play. It is relevant, though, that Ronaldo was also reportedly not receptive to the tactical instructions of Ralf Rangnick.
Changes coming to United
For Erik Ten Hag, inheriting Cristiano Ronaldo in his playing squad represents significant challenges, not least politically. As a manager who favors a high pressing style with players who work to a collective game plan, Ronaldo is an individual who would require to be accommodated by his colleagues. There is an acceptance, and a physical inevitability, that he plays in moments, conserving his energy and exploring the spaces. For Ten Hag to arrive and attempt to show Ronaldo the exit would inevitably cause a media storm, and unbearable scrutiny. If early results and progress were not evident, fans and media would insist Ronaldo was the missing element.
A swift exit to another club, with Ronaldo the instigator, could enable Ten Hag to accelerate the process of building a side in his own image. They can’t replace Ronaldo with a comparable figure, and maybe that’s a good thing. There is an acceptance that Ten Hag needs to be given time, and the authority, to oversee a root-and-branch cultural reboot with this ailing side. For too long, Manchester United have striven to replicate past glories. Other clubs, though, have evolved to reach new levels of excellence based upon defined tactics in which every player knows and executes their role. Ten Hag will be aware that he must make efforts to develop a side that functions to those levels of synchronicity.
The club over a player
With Ronaldo potentially on the verge of mutiny at Manchester United, maybe Ten Hag should consider these words said by Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013 when speaking with Harvard Business Review:
“If the day came that the manager of Manchester United was controlled by the players – in other words, if the players decided how training should be, what days they should have off, what the discipline should be, and what the tactics should be, then Manchester United would not be the Manchester United we know. There are occasions when you have to ask yourself whether certain players are affecting the dressing room atmosphere, the performance of the team, and your control of the players and staff. If they are, you have to cut the cord.”
Those words seem startlingly relevant to the state of the club in recent years. The likelihood, however, is that Ronaldo’s future most likely depends on the strength of his own desire to leave the club that promises it can change.
PHOTO: Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images
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