They say never go back.
It is a well known phrase among football supporters alike. “Never go back”. Rarely do players return to their former clubs and exceed their previous efforts. Christiano Ronaldo departed Manchester United with three Premier League titles and a Champions League medal. After 196 appearances and 84 goals Ronaldo usurped Wayne Rooney as United’s top player. He went on to be a Real Madrid Galactico and the chase began to become the the worlds greatest player.
Ronaldo has given 12 incredible years to elevate himself as the worlds bet only matched by the imperious Lionel Messi since leaving Old Trafford. His goal return has increased from 0.4 goals per game at United to a goal per game for Madrid. He lifted the Euro2016 trophy with his country and at 36 years he still plays for his national team. Even at Juventus he still had a scoring record of a goal per game and finished with just two shy of a century of goals.
The move back to Manchester was originally thought to be to the blue side of the city. But this was quickly dispersed as he pledged his next two years to return to where he was made famous as a player. Moving to City would have damaged his previous work, his legacy and maybe his status among United fans forever. So now we wait and see if this becomes the move of dreams or a move too far.
Excitement and Expectation.
This late capture in the transfer window was unexpected and exciting. United have had a superb window with the capture of Sancho and Varane already. The cherry on top is now of course adding a player with the profile of Ronaldo. Players seem as excited as the fans. Past players even are waxing lyrical about the potential of having Ronaldo leading the line at Old Trafford.
Make no bones about it, Manchester United needed another striker. Relying on Edison Cavani and youngster Greenwood was not seen as a gamble up until now but it wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire. When you look to Varane as a huge upgrade on Lidelof. Ronaldo is also a huge upgrade on Cavani. He is a scorer of goals, a born winner and someone that commands respect from his peers. He would be an inspiration to his team mates.
But this also raises the level of expectation with fans as Ronaldo fever has gripped the City. He will be seen as a talisman. Watching him over the summer play for Portugal you can see how he plays even now at 36yrs with a level of intensity that is unmatched. United have not pulled up many trees so far in their league performances against Southampton and Wolves. But add Ronaldo into that equation and perhaps that can be the difference going forward.
Having finished runners up in the Premier League last season the general opinion was that they needed to add three players to their ranks to go up a level. Sancho has been brought in for huge money to supply the bullets. Varane has been brought in to replace the much maligned Lindelof with his wealth of experience and credentials. Although bagging Harry Kane did not seem a possibility adding Ronaldo will now be seen as a massive step forward.
Spending €150 million has now changed the way we look at the team. And so it should. It is no longer good enough to simply concede that Manchester City are too good for everyone else and accept that teams like United and Chelsea having spent huge sums of money are also rans. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been backed to the hilt this transfer window by the Glaziers and that should entitle them to a return on the field.
When Chelsea spent nearly €200 million on players for Frank Lampard the expectation went through the roof for Frank Lampard. This is now the case for United. It will not be acceptable to be playing Wolves with 55% possession and the potential to drop points to be an outcome. I’m certain that Ronaldo does not want to end his career with nothing to show from his latest move.
Change in Mentality.
This is where the picture must change for United. It is not simply a case of Ronaldo rolls into town and simply waves a magic wand. The Club must match his ambition. His attitude. His drive and determination. This is the key to progressing the group of players. When Liverpool finished on 97 points and lost the league to a magnificent Manchester City a lot of people were thinking that was their chance gone. But the mental strength to go a further kicked in and the belief drove them on.
The manager is of course a huge driving force in this transformation. Again looking across to their rivals Chelsea who lost their manager Frank Lampard and were going nowhere. Suddenly a new manager comes in and transforms the team. Within months they were lifting the Champions League trophy and are now being lined up as rivals for the League this year. The difference is the attitude of the players and staff. When asked about winning the League, Thomas Tuchel never shrugs his standing. Instead he understands that it is almost a given that he will be sacked if he does not deliver.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is now in that position. Four years at the helm of United and no silverware i am sure he will be hoping that those fortunes will change with his new signings. Eight years is a long time for the red half of Manchester to go without lifting the Premier League. Without being too premature though what he really needs is to first taste victory and land perhaps the FA or League Cup.
Recipe for success.
There is no guarantee to win anything in football. Spending money doesn’t always mean success as we’ve seen with the likes of PSG and City trying to win the Champions League for a decade now. Margins are tight when it comes to landing the big prizes. It does seem however that the strongest characters rise to the top. For managers like Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and now Tuchel it is like a war of wills. Mental toughness becomes key.
These managers were though backed with big name players and developed their squads with their own philosophy of the game. Solskjaer has now to find that sort of belief in his squad. The kind that can bring 12-15 wins in a row is now required to win a Premier League. Will Ronaldo make the difference in tight games where he can put a chance away despite the side not firing on all cylinders?
Ronaldo of old, or just old?
Ultimately we all wonder what sort of impact Ronaldo at the age of 36 will bring to United. Can he have the influence that he once had? Remember that Real Madrid felt his powers were waning three seasons ago and the player himself felt he was no longer indispensable. Three seasons in Italy in a league that is felt to be far below the standards of the Spanish, German and definitely the English league.
Ronaldo was the fastest player to reach 100 goals for Juve in his time there indicating that despite the lower standard he is still prolific. Releases from the Turin giants suggest this was more of a financial decision to offload their superstar rather than lack of belief in him. If anything they will still maintain their stranglehold on the domestic league even if they miss his 30 goals a year tally.
You would imagine that from contract talks he will come with certain demands. Penalties and free kick duties will be top priority but it will be intriguing to see how much game time he gets each week. Ronaldo is accustomed to be on the field for 90mins which maximises his time to score. He will not be looking for a Cavani type role where he is sporadically used.
I just can’t see a scenario where he will not score goals. But what would be a good return for the investment? If he gets 30 games this season it would be a 30 goal return based on his last 12 years! That sort of goal tally would be a huge benefit to United for a title challenge. Realistically i can see double digits as a minimum, with an attack on 20 goals being a successful season.
The flip side of that would be an incredible let down after this type of hysteria. As a fan of football i think we can all enjoy that a generational talent will be back in the Premier League. It could be the coup of the season if he can reproduce his best form. We’ll all watch with interest.