Cristiano Ronaldo already has six goals to his name since returning to Manchester United, two of which were crucial late winners in the Champions League. Despite his great goal-scoring record, the transfer has not completely worked out the way all parties had hoped it would.
WHY DID MANCHESTER UNITED SIGN RONALDO?
The Portuguese superstar’s move was a hugely unexpected one, being seemingly signed just because he was available. There have been talks of it being motivated by financial reasons, which is completely plausible given that the Glazers have been almost single-mindedly focused on increasing commercial success.
Recent years, even before the Covid-19 pandemic, showed that the lack of on-field success over the past decade has caught up with the club. Commercial revenue growth was slowing down and the pandemic exacerbated the impact. The squad had a lot of potential at the end of last season but it lacked a naturally charismatic and commercially adept figure for the club administration to exploit other than Paul Pogba who is not well-liked in England.
Ronaldo was an easy way out to boost deals, merchandise sales and improve upon other non-footballing aspects of the club. There are few individuals, if any, who can match his brand power but his impact on the field is growing increasingly concerning even for the casual viewer.
THE GOOD AND THE BAD
The long-story short of Ronaldo is that he is well over 36 years old. He was never a prolific presser at the height of his powers but his defensive contribution for Manchester United is rather preposterous.
Signing Ronaldo was always going to elevate #MUFC forward line + require compromise.
Pressing stats (from Oct 1) no surprise but showed even more today (Vardy comparison too).
Lots to do to find team balance in/out of possession.@TheAthleticUKhttps://t.co/k6q2vLkZ3H pic.twitter.com/expWUEqayn
— Laurie Whitwell (@lauriewhitwell) October 16, 2021
Across the top five leagues in Europe this season, he ranks in the 1st percentile (lower is worse) for pressures, successful pressures, tackles won and in the 3rd percentile for tackles attempted and in the 11th percentile for blocks. For a club of United’s size, that should be getting on the front foot and putting teams under pressure, these numbers are unacceptable.
Even if we reduce his efforts down to just attacking play then there are glaring holes that need to be filled. Ronaldo creates very little, contributing just 0.5 goal creating actions per 90 mins and wins just 0.82 aerial duels every match. These stats are not representative of his entire attacking contribution but they signify two major problems – Ronaldo does not help United much against the low-block and he does not give them an out-ball.
What does Ronaldo offer to the team then? He is a volume shooter and is ruthless when given a chance in the box. However, even in the penalty area his movement has been found lacking at times and he is often reactive rather than proactive. Is he the player Manchester United needed this summer?
CAVANI, GREENWOOD ET AL
One of the major reasons that Ronaldo has not really improved the team is because Ole Gunnar Solskjaer already has several such players at his disposal. Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and Mason Greenwood who can all play in the central attacking role like to take a lot of shots and do not press much.
A superb fourth goal of the season for @MasonGreenwood.#MUFC pic.twitter.com/9tdMVCmTnY
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) October 17, 2021
Rashford and Greenwood in particular are very shot heavy and thus, when played alongside Ronaldo like in the last couple of games, there is very little dynamism in the side. Greenwood spent his youth years playing as a striker but Rashford and Martial are not specialist centre forwards and thus their movement in the box too is not instinctive.
This is why last season Edinson Cavani improved Manchester United as much as he did – the Uruguayan offered them the other options did not. The same goes for Bruno Fernandes who is perhaps the only on-ball creator last season, especially when Paul Pogba was not playing. Pogba is in form this season and they have signed Jadon Sancho but it is impossible to fit all three of them and Ronaldo and anyone else in the lineup.
Cavani's actually played off the left. He did a lot for PSG with Ibrahimovic up top. He's 34 but his mentality and natural fitness still makes it easy for him. He's definitely more suited to it for the team than Ronaldo in this game.
— UtdArena (@utdarena) October 20, 2021
There is a case to argue that Manchester United needed a striker in the summer given Cavani’s age and Martial’s injury record but one in the mold of Cristiano Ronaldo was not the requirement. A better option would have been to give Mason Greenwood more minutes at centre forward given that this should be his long-term position. That would have also allowed Jadon Sancho to get a good run of games at right wing, where he is needed.
Ronaldo thus disbalanced the squad on the field for Solskjaer and has left him with a conundrum that is beyond his capabilities. If reports are to be believed and Solskjaer could be on his way out soon then whoever comes in next will have this unenviable task and it is difficult to see how the Red Devils could improve without dropping Ronaldo from the side.