Cristiano Ronaldo is fortunate that Manchester United ceased some time ago to be a serious football club run by serious football people. He was once a great player and he has had a quite brilliant career but the truth is that no team who put winning trophies above selling shirts would have indulged him so utterly and so obediently last season as the goons who run the show at Old Trafford.
United gave him a stage his waning powers should not have earned but now it is reported that Ronaldo wants to leave the club because they cannot fulfil his ambition of playing in the Champions League. It would, perhaps, be indelicate to point out the fact United are not in the competition this season is, in no small part, down to the debilitating effect Ronaldo had on the side when he rejoined last summer.
Ronaldo scored plenty of goals, sure, and those who value the individual more than the team will continue to see that as his vindication. Others have noted that United scored far fewer goals last season with Ronaldo than they scored the season before without him. The player became bigger than the team. United struggled even to finish sixth in the Premier League.
Cristiano Ronaldo is fortunate that Manchester United ceased being a serious football club
The superstar is keen to leave, and he is a luxury player, which is not viable in the top-flight
Ronaldo scored goals but he did not do much else. At the age of 37, he is a luxury player and luxury players are not viable any more in the Premier League. Even a casual observer could see that United did not work anywhere near as hard as Manchester City and Liverpool worked last season. They looked like dilettantes up against serious players and Ronaldo set that tone.
So if Ronaldo does indeed want away, good luck with finding a club who will be prepared to subjugate themselves to his ego and his pulling power as completely as United did last season. Any club who sign up for that are heading for a world of pain. United, whose other leading players withered around Ronaldo, are still counting the cost of that.
Todd Boehly is supposed to be thinking about taking him on the basis that Ronaldo would be a statement signing for his new Chelsea regime. The only statement that would make is that there is a sucker born every minute. Boehly has made a good start by buying Raheem Sterling but signing Ronaldo would send out a signal he wants to turn Chelsea into a team of washed-up galacticos.
By signing Ronaldo, Todd Boehly would send out the wrong signal for the new era at Chelsea
What I don’t understand is why United are not hurrying Ronaldo out of the door. If he wants to leave, drive him to the airport, wish him good luck for the future, thank him for everything he has done for the club over the years and put him on a plane to wherever he wants to go. He is one of the greatest there has ever been but his greatness lies in the past now, not the present.
It is surely only the commercial executives at Old Trafford who want him to stay so that they can continue to use him to front their kit launches and drive their clicks on social media. The irony of that, of course, is that some fans have become so disillusioned with the way Ronaldo’s side have performed that they are urging a boycott of the new strip.
United’s new manager, Erik ten Hag, would never be able to say it but Ronaldo leaving would be the best thing that could happen for him as he begins the task of trying to reverse United’s ongoing decline. Ronaldo was only ever going to be a short-term signing, designed to distract attention from the deeper malaise at the club.
Erik ten Hag would never say it, but Ronaldo’s exit would be the best thing that could happen
His signing was part of the chaos that enveloped United last season but if they are serious about rebuilding under Ten Hag, they can only do that properly without Ronaldo unless he is prepared to accept a role as an occasional starter and a £500,000-a-week impact sub. I think we all know the answer to that.
Ten Hag has not exactly hit the ground running in his new job. He made his first signing last week when left back Tyrell Malacia joined from Feyenoord, but apart from that, the extent of his intentions seems to be to sign players who play for Ajax or used to play for Ajax. He also, apparently, aims to drop anyone who turns up late for training. Good luck with that.
However he does it, Ten Hag needs to establish his authority at Old Trafford and he cannot do that with Ronaldo there. He needs to implement his own playing style and he cannot do that with Ronaldo there. He has got a huge job to turn this group of players, who have excelled only in their misplaced sense of entitlement, into a team who can challenge for big trophies and he cannot do that with Ronaldo there.
The new manager must implement his own playing style, and cannot do that with the ace there
The trick for United will not be trying to keep Ronaldo but finding a club they can offload him to. The suggestion is that, for all Boehly’s enthusiasm, Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel is not enamoured by the thought of signing Ronaldo. Given that Tuchel is, by a distance, Chelsea’s prime asset, Boehly would do well to take his manager’s wishes into account.
In some ways, you have to admire Ronaldo’s naked ambition. He has never sought to hide it. He wants to play at the highest level of club football, in the Champions League, and everything else is secondary to that. If he can find someone to pay his wages and indulge once more his waning capabilities, then good luck to him.
Others would say he should be thinking about the MLS rather than the Champions League but as far as United are concerned, his destination is irrelevant. As the club tour the Far East and Australia without him, as they struggle to make new signings for the season ahead, as they come to terms with Ten Hag’s rigid new behavioural rules, it is hard to think of a team more in need of a fresh start. And they cannot get that while Ronaldo is still in their ranks.
NOVAK DESTINED TO BE THE THIRD MAN
When Novak Djokovic walked on to Centre Court behind Cameron Norrie before Friday’s men’s singles semi-final at Wimbledon, he gave a slightly hesitant wave to the crowd as if he knew the applause would not last.
‘He’s going to have the crowd against him today,’ said Andrew Castle on the BBC. ‘It will be interesting to see how he copes with that.’ John McEnroe sighed before he responded. ‘He’s been there before,’ said McEnroe. ‘Too many times.’ Too many times, indeed, and at the end of that semi-final the Centre Court crowd booed Djokovic in his moment of victory.
Irrespective of Sunday’s result against Nick Kyrgios, Djokovic will probably go on to be the most successful men’s tennis player of all time and yet public affection has not accompanied him on his journey. That is less to do with his stance on vaccination and more to do with the fact that he is not Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal.
However many Grand Slam titles he wins, Djokovic is destined to be the Third Man. Maybe he will find approbation in the dying years of his career. In the meantime, I hope he adds another Wimbledon title to his honour roll. For his talent and his resilience, he deserves it.
Novak Djokovic is destined to remain the Third Man, behind Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal
CARING JACK BOWED OUT WITH CLASS
There was a spell, some years ago, as he was emerging as a rare talent at Arsenal, when I spent a bit of time with Jack Wilshere and realised quickly that beyond all his sublime ability as a footballer, he was a thoroughly decent human being full of care and compassion for others.
A young star in north London, he had the kind of mercurial football ability that could have made him as influential a player in this country as Paul Gascoigne, but injuries cut short those comparisons and eventually forced him into the retirement he announced last week.
He took his leave with great grace and generosity of spirit, character traits that will serve him well in his life after his playing career.
Jack Wilshere retired with grace and generosity, which will serve him well in his next chapter