As Cristiano Ronaldo rose in the air, you just knew what the outcome was going to be. Meeting Alex Telles’ corner with a powerful header, the ball arrowed into the top corner, leaving Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Hugo Lloris rooted to the spot. 3-2. Hat-trick. Three points for Manchester United.
Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford has been a tale of twists and turns. He made an instant impact early in the season, to the point where fans and pundits were hailing the decision to bring him back to the club. However, there have been times in the months since where it seems as though Ronaldo’s presence in the team has affected United’s ability to press from the front — a sense that this shining emblem of the club’s past was now holding them back.
But then he produces moments of magic like he did against Tottenham. His first goal seemed to transport everyone back to 2008, when Ronaldo was in his pomp for Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson. Receiving Fred’s flick some 25 yards from goal, Ronaldo unleashed a powerful, dipping effort beyond Lloris and into the top corner. Later in the half, he put them 2-1 ahead after Harry Kane’s equaliser, getting on the end of Jadon Sancho’s cross to tap home from close range. Then came the late header which sealed the win once and for all.
This is the Ronaldo conundrum that is dumbfounding fans, pundits and writers alike at the moment. On one hand, the Portuguese international is one of the greatest footballers ever to walk the earth. Indeed, his first goal against Spurs saw him become the FIFA-recognised leading all-time scorer in football history. Surely that should be enough to give him value to Manchester United beyond his mere commercial appeal.
But if United are to truly make strides in the coming years, you feel that having a player like Ronaldo among the ranks just won’t cut the mustard. Ralf Rangnick has been tasked with taking the reins after the inconsistency of Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s tenure, to pave the way for a new permanent manager to join in the summer and lead the club forward, hopefully helping their chances in the odds for football betting.
United’s aim will be to replicate the success that Manchester City and Liverpool have enjoyed in recent years, but when you look at those teams there are no outliers in the squad in the same way that Ronaldo is at United. Yes, they have recognisable star players in the form of Kevin De Bruyne and Mohamed Salah, but those two are a key part of their team’s respective systems — a vital cog in the winning machine.
Ronaldo, by contrast, feels like a luxury — the shiny sports car that looks good and feels good but isn’t so useful for the school run. His presence up front for Manchester United has undoubtedly been a hindrance to players like Sancho and Marcus Rashford, who are forced to operate in the shadow of this footballing behemoth.
Even at the age of 37, Ronaldo undoubtedly still has the quality to play for one of the world’s biggest clubs, but you have to question whether his presence at Manchester United is what the club needs to progress and start the next chapter.