Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United has failed on almost every level


Cristiano Ronaldo played for Manchester United in 2003 and he may yet play for them in 2023. The Erik ten Hag era began without United’s most famous player but with the new manager declaring he was “not for sale”. Ronaldo’s apparent wanderlust means that, if he gets his way, his reunion with United will be cut short. Rather than returning them to past glories, it has cast him into uncharted territory. Stay and the Champions League’s record goalscorer will be playing in the Europa League. It would be a sign of how the mighty has fallen.

It would also be an indication of his return having backfired. Because, ultimately, everyone has suffered. Even Ronaldo, though his bank balance was boosted still further by the sort of salary that makes him unaffordable to most others. While he won the Sir Matt Busby award again and was shortlisted for PFA Player of the Year, and while his return of 18 league goals was exceptional for a 37-year-old, it was still his lowest tally for 13 years. He has slipped off the pedestal of the world’s best. He had the joyous homecoming against Newcastle and the tour de force of his hat-trick against Tottenham, but untold indignities against Liverpool and Manchester City.

More broadly, United went from second to sixth, from 73 goals and 74 points to 57 and 58 respectively. The idea Ronaldo would bring the best from the other attack-minded players, that he would spur them on to improvement, was disproved. Jadon Sancho had a difficult debut year. Each of Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, Anthony Martial, Edinson Cavani and Bruno Fernandes scored fewer goals than in 2020-21. Meanwhile, Ten Hag got a glimpse of untapped potential and life without Ronaldo when Sancho and Martial scored and Rashford looked livelier in Tuesday’s 4-0 win over Liverpool.

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