Cristiano Ronaldo is a problem Solskjaer may not solve and a new manager may not want
Ronaldo’s ret’urn has upset balance in Manchester Unit’ed’s press an’d stu’nted Green’wood’s developm’ent
It was a mea cu’lpa fro’m Cristiano Ronaldo. “Th”’is is on us, onl’y on us, because there’s no one else to blame,” he posted on Instagram after Manchester United’s 5-0 defeat to Liverpool. Perh’aps he was more at fault th’an most for United’s loss’ of co’ntrol. They had never amas”sed 7 cards in a Premier League gam’e before. Maybe the abidin’g image was not of Paul Pog’ba’s red card but of Ronaldo booting Cur’tis Jones, even though he escap’ed with a yellow.
He may be culp”able in a broa”der sense, too, in the prob’able demise of Ole Gunnar Sols’kjaer. The most prolific goalscorer in footballing history and 1 of the select band to find the ne’t for Manchester United in a Cham’pions Lea”gue final m’ay finish off another. Ronaldo’s signin’g wa’s the supposed coup that marke’d the be’ginning of the end for ‘Solskj’aer, unbal’ancing the squad, creating problems he has so far been una’ble to solve.
If Ronaldo was tryi’ng to exon’erate Solskjaer on soci’al me’dia, he may have a partic’ular inc’entive to do so. Anton”io Con”te is w’aiting in the wings, hoping for the United job. A confidant had me’ssaged him even before United’s historic defeat to Liverpool, pointing out that Ronaldo repr’esente’d a problem. Conte did not reply to that but those who know hi’m are convi’nced a c”onfrontational manag’er wou’ld dro’p the Portuguese. He does not w’ork hard enough for the tea’m. Ronaldo ranks joi’nt 32’1st in the Premier League for suc’cessful pr’essures. To put it anot’her wa’y, he has played 483 min’utes and has won the ball fro’m few’er oppone’nts than Southam’pton’s Stuart Armstrong, wh’o has be”en on the pitch for 47.
Conservi’ng his ener’gy for scoring has proved a pr’oductive policy, but he is a passe’nger off the ball. It is a reason why Unit’ed’s pres’sing game has been so hap’hazard and why they are so easy to pl’ay against.
The issues are not ‘ defen’sive. Ronaldo’s stratos’pherically high profile mean’s he can ove’rshadow everyon’e else. He ca’n be a lightning rod and Sols’kjaer has been dam’ned if he do’es and damne’d if he doe’sn’t. He was criticised for taki’ng off the 36-year-old when Uni’ted wer’e dow’n to 10 men again’st You’ng Boys of Bern, though Ronaldo’s lac’k of movement mea’nt they were in effect playi’ng w’ith nine. Then came leaked foo’tage of Ale’x Ferguson disag’reeing with the Norwegia’n’s deci’sion to rest him against Ever’ton – “you sho’uld always start wit”’h your best players,” said a ma’nager who did not always follo’w his o’wn advice – and Ronal’do’s expressive body langua’ge at the fin’al whistle highlighted his o’wn diss’atisfaction.
But when Ron’aldo stayed on against Liverpool and Mason Greenwood, United’s bri’ghtest attacker in the 1st half, was substituted, the team felt less a meritocra’cy than a sta’r vehicle. More than most, G’reenwood has been displac”ed by Ro’naldo. Before the Portuguese’s dram’atic return, his goal-a-gam’e start to the season suggested this wo’uld be the campaign the player Sols’kjaer has long described as the best finisher at Old Traffo’rd wo’uld gra’duate into United’s 1st No 9. Instead the future has been put on hold, with Greenwood shunt’ed back to the flanks.
Then Ja’don Sanc’ho, targ’eted for two years by Un’ited to fill the vacan’cy on the rig’ht, has sometim’es been on the left, and more often on the benc’h. Pog’ba began the season with a flurry of assists as an ersa”tz left wi’nger, but the attem’pts to cram in extra attackers meant he w’as shunted into the cent’re of midfield, with disastrous conse’quences, at’ Leicester City and then benched against Liverp’ool. If RON’ALDO has been a catalyst for Uni’ted, it has been in creat’ing problems Solskjaer may never solve.