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27th Aug 2021

The case for and against Man United signing Cristiano Ronaldo

Wayne Farry

There are two rules in life: do not make decisions when you are emotional, or when you are hungry – Manchester United have broken at least one of those rules

So it looks like it is actually happening. After 12 years and countless tweets from Manchester United fans, Cristiano Ronaldo is finally coming ‘home’.

Not literally, of course, home is Madeira. But his spiritual home. No, not Madrid, where he spent the majority of his career and won the majority of his trophies.

The other home, the one constructed by Manchester United fans in their heads. He’s back.

Sit down. Your room is just the way it was when you left.

His return will be greeted with delight, but it also begs the question: is it a smart move for Manchester United?

Why it’s a good idea

1. He’s very good at football

Let’s get the obvious and undeniable positives out of the way first. Ronaldo is a goalscorer. He will score goals. Even at 36, he continues to take the piss. He scored 29 league goals last season, 31 the season before that. The last time he failed to score more than 20 league goals in a season was 2008/09 – his final year at Old Trafford before leaving for Madrid.

So, yeah, he’s a very good footballer.

2. He’s a commercial dream

We have to look at the commercial element of it all. Before you say anything, I must stress that no, United won’t make the money back in shirt sales – but adidas will make a lot of money. United will, however, get a commercial boost from this. Ronaldo is the most marketable footballer in the world, so it comes with the package. Good stuff.

3. It makes the fans happpppppy

It’s a feel-good transfer. For better or worse, this will make some fans very, very happy. So there’s that.

Why it’s a bad idea

1. It’s an emotional transfer

I’m gonna pull the ol’ switcheroo here on you dear reader, and say that actually, that last point above is in fact a negative. No, fans being happy isn’t a bad thing – we all hope to feel a modicum of joy at some point throughout our lives.

But basing your transfer decisions on what makes fans happier – or less angry – with your club’s owners and the general malaise around the club does not a good deal make.

More to the point, there was little real talk about United signing Ronaldo until – you guessed it – Manchester City came in and started sniffing around his own brand of scandalously small swimming shorts.

Would United have tried to sign him even if City hadn’t? No one will ever know, but the club do have previous of signing players with at least part of the purpose being to trump City. Remember Alexis Sanchez? No, me neither.

My point is that this does not feel like a deal which has been meticulously planned and vetted. It does not appear that United have done due diligence in the 12-hour period during which they went from having no interest to being on the verge of signing him. Go back to the top of this page: emotional decisions rarely work.

2. He’s 36 years old

I’m not ageist. Let me say that. But the only sport in which a 36-year-old has a bright future is either golf or lawn bowls. I jest, of course, but Ronaldo is not the man to fill the centre-forward role for Manchester United for years to come. He will likely stay at the club for no more than two years, by which time he is 38.

During that two years, Ronaldo will likely have both helped nurture Mason Greenwood’s innate talent and eaten into an enormous amount of the youngster’s potential game time. Like most examples of instant gratification, there’s little future in it.

3. He’s not a central defensive midfielder

I would back Ronaldo to do a job in most positions on a football pitch. Centre-forward is his bread and butter, but he could probably do a job at centre-half given his experience, physicality, athleticism and things picked up from playing the world’s best for more than a decade.

He cannot however play in central midfield, and that is the position Manchester United need to fill. They have Fred, Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay; three players who – when all of their respective qualities and attributes are combined – just about add up to a functioning Premier League CDM.

Often times, United’s problem is not about being ruthless in the box, it’s about getting there in the first place. The key to winning football matches is breaking the lines and finding space. Only Pogba and Bruno Fernandes are truly capable of doing that, and both play in elevated roles.

A sensible club would’ve used the time after the signings of Varane and Sancho to focus on that area of the pitch. But Manchester United are not a sensible club.

So there you have it. Will Ronaldo be a success at United? Well, knowing my luck – yes. He will bang in loads of goals and I will be made to look like the fool that, deep down, I’ve always known I was.

But let’s just wait and see. At the end of the day, when we get down to brass tacks, none of this really matters anyway. The world is burning up with us on it, and football is a game. Have fun.

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