OLIVER HOLT: Ronaldo's United return feels like admission of defeat

OLIVER HOLT: Cristiano Ronaldo’s signing by Manchester United feels like an admission of defeat. There are few better ways to buy off the fanbase than with a big name… The club were so close to building a new team of winners for a new era

  • Cristiano Ronaldo’s return is a commercial masterstroke for Manchester United 
  • United supporters from all over the world will take their kids to see him play
  • But it is hard to argue against the idea Ronaldo, 37 next year, is past his best
  • He is one of the greatest players ever but he is on the downslope of his career

The re-signing of Cristiano Ronaldo by Manchester United is a magnificent coup. 

Both emotionally and commercially, it is a masterstroke that reunites a forward who has been one of the greatest players in the history of football with a fan-base that has never forsaken him and always held him dear. 

It was a victory over Manchester City, too. And United haven’t had many of those recently.

The re-signing of Cristiano Ronaldo by Manchester United is a magnificent coup

United supporters — and supporters from all over the world — will take their kids to see him play at Old Trafford so that their kids can tell their grandkids they saw Ronaldo play. 

He carries the same aura as Lionel Messi in that way. He is an icon of the sport, an athlete, a superstar, a man whose work ethic has prolonged his career and allowed him to continue gracing the biggest stages.

But in football terms, his signing by United feels like an admission of defeat. If United had wanted to move another step closer to winning their first title for nearly a decade, they would have moved for one of the men who have succeeded Ronaldo as the best striker in the world: Kylian Mbappe, Erling Haaland or Harry Kane. That didn’t happen.

Ronaldo is a phenomenon but he will be 37 years old in February and, even though this is the age of immortality in sport, when heroes like Jimmy Anderson, Tom Brady and Rafael Nadal make a habit of defying the years, it is hard to argue against the idea Ronaldo is past his best. He is one of the greatest but he is on the downslope of his career.

But it is hard to argue against the idea Ronaldo, 37 in February 2022, is past his best

Sure, his numbers still stacked up with the best of them when he was at Juventus but his third year at the club was the first time they had failed to win the Italian title in 10 years. 

Nostalgia is a beautiful thing and it may well sustain United and Ronaldo through the next two years of their relationship but it is unlikely to be the signing that lifts United to the title.

It is an admission of defeat, too, because it is a symbol of a club that still cannot let go of their glorious past. Short of reappointing Sir Alex Ferguson as manager, United could hardly have made a more vigorous nod to their history. 

Even though there is something touching about that romanticism, it also represents a failure of courage to embrace the present and the future.

His signing fits a recent pattern at Old Trafford of a board that is blinded by reputation and star power. He is the latest in a lineage that runs from Radamel Falcao to Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Edinson Cavani and now to Ronaldo. 

His signing fits a recent pattern at Old Trafford of a board that is blinded by reputation

No one is talking about getting rid of the Glazers any more now that Ronaldo is here

Reputation, reputation, reputation. All those players were past their best when they arrived at United. Each of them showed moments of great class. None of them moved the team closer to the title.

It is cynical, I know, but there are few better ways to buy off the fanbase than with a big name. No one is talking about getting rid of the Glazers any more now that Ronaldo is here. #FSGout was trending on Twitter because the owners of Liverpool have not made any moves in the transfer market during the close season.

After the uproar of last season and the outrage that met the Glazers’ plans to enrol United in the European Super League, they have bought themselves some peace with the acquisition of Ronaldo. 

It is the ultimate sop to United supporters. He is the last active link with an era of glory that defined the modern United and which they have been striving to recapture since Ferguson retired in the spring of 2013.

Parents will take their children to Old Trafford to catch a glimpse of the football superstar

But Ronaldo’s signing is not the final piece of the jigsaw for United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Clubs have conducted transfers like this since the beginning of time. You camouflage weakness with a big name. Freddy Shepherd was a master of that art when he was in charge at Newcastle.

It is almost as if United understood they were still not quite good enough to compete with City and Chelsea. 

Ronaldo’s a luxury consolation prize but he’s not necessarily the final piece in the jigsaw for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. He does not fix a problem in the way the signing of Romelu Lukaku has fixed a problem for Chelsea.

United have had a good transfer window. The signings of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane are additions of real quality that will improve the first team as well as the squad. 

Ronaldo is the most eye-catching acquisition but he is also the weakest. Those who are fans of Solskjaer will hope that he does not unbalance the team he has patiently constructed.

United are getting closer and closer to creating another side that can win the big trophies and that is why, when you try to assess the Ronaldo signing through a prism of rationality rather than emotion, it feels like a backward step. 

The club were so close to kicking away the crutches of the past and building a new team of winners for a new era and now they have lurched into nostalgia.

It is hard not to applaud the sentimentality. It is impossible not to be touched by the romance. It is futile to try to resist the aura that Ronaldo will bring.

But all that should really matter is whether this is a signing that will enable United to win the Premier League and the Champions League again.

That, unfortunately, is not what the return of CR7 to Manchester United is about.

Short of reappointing Sir Alex Ferguson as manager, United could hardly have made a more vigorous nod to their history




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