Why the Ronaldo Signing was a Necessary Evil for Manchester United

Cristiano Ronaldo is arguably the best player of the last decade. This phrase fully encompasses the idea of this article. From far away the signing of someone with 5 Ballon d’Or that too for just €15 million seems like an absolute steal. But when a deal seems too good to be true, sometimes it actually is. One should ask oneself a question: Why did Juventus sell Ronaldo in the first place?

Juventus had an already aging squad when Ronaldo joined their ranks and a mid-field that was though good could not match the intensity of that of Real Madrid. Apart from the mid-field players like Karim Benzema had to drop a little deeper to allow Cristiano the space to do what he did best: Score goals. All of this work from the supporting players was necessary because CR7’s age meant he could no longer contribute as much defensively and press. However, when the Juve mid-field and Paulo Dybala had to increase their defensive work rate to accommodate Ronaldo. It eventually led to the downfall of both the mid-field and Paulo Dybala as they could no longer perform the roles they wanted to and/or were good at.

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This is a big part of the reason why we are now seeing an absolute beast of Karim Benzema. He no longer has to drop deeper and play second fiddle. Similarly, we are looking at a much better Paulo Dybala as well.

Another reason why Juve had to sell Ronaldo was that he was stopping the growth of many young players such as Moise Kean who is now playing quite well in PSG. This was because Ronaldo will want playtime and that playtime means less experience for young nurturing talents. None of these factors are directly Ronaldo’s fault. At the stage of his carrer where he is, it is necessary to do these things in order to get the best out of one of the best players the world has ever seen. But these factors lead to the deaths of teams and projects like Juventus’ and United’s.  

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Just like Juventus, Man United is suffering from the aforementioned factors but it is in fact much worse in the case of Manchester United. Man United already had an abundance of attackers fighting for a starting berth. Jadon Sancho’s hefty price made him an obligation and Cristiano Ronaldo’s reputation made him the second guaranteed starter. This meant that Paul Pogba who was playing exceptionally well at left wing had to be pushed back to the mid-field where he is playing mediocre at best. Players like Mason Greenwood, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford have to fight for a single starting spot. The player who suffered the most perhaps is Bruno Fernandes, this man single-handedly took the entirety of Manchester United to another level and was himself putting up magnificent numbers.

This is just the team selection conundrum, the tactical side of this is a whole another ball game. Paul Pogba is defensively poor and Nemanja Matic can’t cover as much ground especially at this age and the players in front of them are also more attack-minded rather than defensive. This leaves the defense more vulnerable and open to penetration.

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This begs the question why did Man United bring Cristiano back to Old Trafford even after they witnessed what happened to Juventus. Perhaps the same reason why Juventus signed Ronaldo back in 2018 despite inhibitions from then manager Massimiliano Allegri: They were desperate. The reasons for desperation are different though. Juventus needed European glory and Mr. Champions League seemed like the obvious way to go. Now if they were able to win a UCL despite the aforementioned flaws then we might not be having this conversation but in Ronaldo’s 3 seasons there, they never even made it even past the Quarter Finals. The reason why Manchester United was desperate is a bit more complicated than this though.

Manchester United’s derby rivals Manchester City were inches away from signing Ronaldo this transfer window. But all it took to bring Ronaldo to United was a phone call from Sir Alex Ferguson, and this is a representation of the pull that Manchester united possesses from its huge history of glory. The pull power in Manchester has always resided in United only until recently now that City has started to dominate football in not just Manchester but also England. If Cristiano Ronaldo, a Manchester United legend, went to the other side of the city, then the power shift in Manchester would be quite evident and perhaps even irreversible for some time. Manchester United had to cut off the arm to save the body, they sacrificed some part of their rebuild project to protect their reputation. Glory and money can be earned back, but building your reputation back is an arduous task.

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Coming back to the statement, “Cristiano Ronaldo is arguably the best player of the last decade”. Cristiano represents a lot in the footballing world in terms of brand value, your influence in the transfer market and a lot else because of what he has achieved. But he is no longer the player he once was and can actually be somewhat of a liability to your team rather than an asset.  

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