Why an Old Trafford return for Cristiano Ronaldo shouldn’t be a formality
It was the morning of 26th June 2009. As a 14 year old, I was walking to school assembly with friends when I heard the name ‘Ronaldo’ mused from a group behind. Being the gloat, I turned to them, with the full intention to lap up the fact that it was my team that this Portuguese genius, and my favourite footballer, played for. Before I even had a chance to speak, a mobile phone screen was shoved in my face. “RONALDO JOINS SPANISH GIANTS REAL MADRID FOR £80MILLION.” I actually felt like crying, all the while being endlessly mocked by just about every rival fan in the classroom.
That fact I remember everything so clearly from that day reminds me how harrowing it was as a United fans to lose Ronaldo when we did. Despite being Portuguese, he was a player we all felt was one of our own. Watching him grow and improve over the years alongside the likes of Ryan Giggs, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney was beautiful. His relationship with the club and the fans was special, and is something which has remained despite him leaving over five years ago now.
Leaving on good terms always left the door open for the great one to return to Old Trafford one day, and it is something Cristiano himself has talked about while in Spain. Spanish Football expert Guillem Balague has claimed this week that everything is in place for Ronaldo to return to United, after the winger expressed his disappointment to the Madrid hierarchy regarding the sales of Mesut Ozil, Xabi Alonso and Angel Di Maria.
Seeing Ronaldo back in a United shirt would be fantastic – I can’t deny that. Putting nostalgia aside though, I have my qualms about it all.
Louis Van Gaal spent a colossal £146million this summer in a major squad facelift; a sum which doesn’t account for Radamel Falcao’s loan deal which includes an option to buy the Colombian at the end of the season. United’s squad has been what you would describe as ‘top heavy’ for a number of years now. The brilliant attacking talent has always been there, but a lack of top class Centre Midfield and Centre Back options, as well as the failure of David Moyes last season, contributed to a disappointing 7th place Premier League finish. Having lost Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, United really needed to bring in an experienced International Centre Back this summer, but the somewhat erratic Marcos Rojo was the only import to cover in this position. Ander Herrera and Daley Blind are two very good Midfield players that have been brought in too, but the pursuit of number one target Arturo Vidal slipped by the wayside. Di Maria and Falcao then came in, tipping the unbalanced squad off the scales.
It is never ideal when a player of Shinji Kagawa’s calibre has to be sold to make space in the squad either, compounded by the fact that fan favourite Danny Welbeck also left – moving to rivals Arsenal. With the likes of Van Persie, Rooney, Mata, Di Maria, Falcao and Januzaj all available in the attacking positions, surely the addition of Ronaldo would only add to the problem. There is a very fine line between squad depth, and squad bloating.
We are led to believe that the main reason Manchester United didn’t seal a deal for Arturo Vidal was due to concerns over a previously operated knee problem. If this is the case, should Ronaldo’s ongoing Patellar Tendonosis, an injury which kept Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal out of action for 8 months, not be of greater concern? After all, is any player really worth a £140million gamble? (Accounting for transfer fee and wages over four years)
At 29 years of age, Cristiano Ronaldo is by no means seen as old in the world of football. His body has been through a lot of wear and tear during the years though, in a first team career totalling 13 years now.
If Ronaldo was to return, what would be the fate of Adnan Januzaj? The first team emergence of the Belgian was one of the only bright points in David Moyes reign, but he has found himself on the bench more often than not under Louis Van Gaal. Comparisons were originally made between Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling and Adnan Januzaj last season, but that debate has been categorically put to bed of late. Regular first team football is the common denominator between the two, with Sterling since becoming an established England international, but Januzaj remaining as just a talented young player due to a lack of games. Signing another attacker could put Januzaj’s nose out even further out of joint. For that reason I don’t believe the club should risk losing a player with the potential to be a world star for 15 years, simply for a three year throwback with a former hero.
For Ronaldo to come back, United would realistically need to sell at least one of the aforementioned players, but who? Rooney is club captain, Falcao and Di Maria have just been signed, Mata was bought only nine months ago for £37million, leaving Robin Van Persie. The Dutchman has picked up some niggling injuries recently, and is getting no younger at 31. The lingering question is whether Louis Van Gaal would be prepared to sell the man he made captain of his World Cup squad, and whom he is known to get on very well with off the pitch too.
Aside from so much negativity, Ronaldo is still an incredible player who will go down as one of the all time greats. 51 Goals in 47 games in all competitions last season clearly show that he is not even showing a hint of decline. This comes with a downside (again), in that he would command yet another massive transfer fee for the club to fork out. The big spending cannot go on forever without some kind of success to match.
Manchester United never really replaced the void left by Ronaldo in 2009. With £80million to play with, it wasn’t like there was a shortage of funds to do so either. The fact that the club could finally be replacing Ronaldo by simply resigning him 5/6 years later just isn’t good enough.
I may be coming across as a ranting pessimist, but I feel I am being more realistic than most over the situation. Too many fans are blinded by the love they still have for Ronaldo, which is perfectly understandable. But when you break it down, his signature would raise more questions than it would answers. With all that being said though, I would still be the first to buy a Ronaldo Manchester United shirt in the club megastore…