Unrealised Expectations and a Summer of Unforeseen Rejections: Does Cristiano Ronaldo Still Have Anything to Offer Europe’s Elite?

Five-time Balon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo is one player who has frequently dominated headlines this summer. Well, it isn’t unusual for Ronaldo to dominate headlines, he’s always hugged the limelight ever since he emerged as a superstar during his first stint at Manchester United but he would definitely like to shy away from some of the recent reports about him as they only paint a story of a fallen stock or a finished player. 


Ronaldo has reportedly asked to leave Manchester United this summer after the club’s failure to qualify for this season’s Champions League and he has been offered to some of Europe’s big hitters including Chelsea, Bayern Munich, and Atletico Madrid who have all passed on the opportunity to sign the 37-year old.


Bayern’s response to the Ronaldo links was the most damming and emphatic as club director Oliver Kahn openly told the media that the Portuguese does not fit into their philosophy at the moment and despite losing a talismanic figure in Robert Lewandowski to Barcelona, they would not sign the greatest goalscorer in footballing history.


Chelsea on the other hand have also declined the opportunity to sign the Portuguese star as Thomas Tuchel vetoed Todd Boehly’s interest in the player and Atletico Madrid fans had to take matters into their hands by protesting against any proposed move for Ronaldo after rumours began to emanate in the Spanish media.  


The recent happenings in the transfer window begs the question, why is everyone rejecting Ronaldo of all people? Why is a five-time Balon d’Or and arguably the greatest footballer of all time being tossed around like some cheap commodity?


Reigniting the Blue Torch Paper: The Super Eagle’s Failure to Qualify for the 2022 World and What Next for Nigerian Football


Perhaps if he had set his heart on remaining at Manchester United all these wouldn’t be happening, but it can still be argued that he deserves a move away from a club that has shown a lack of ambition in the last five years. After all, he did all he could to help the team secure a higher-placed finish last season as he was their highest goal scorer amid a dip in form that had plagued literally every Man United player last season.  


Well, one of the arguments put up by some football fans and pundits is that Cristiano Ronaldo is to a large extent responsible for the dip in form of his Manchester United teammates and this argument stems from the narrative that Ronaldo is an individualistic player hunting solely for personal glory and adulation. While that may be partly true, it still does not take away his desire to win titles and help his team to collective glory. 


The Portuguese has been in many title-winning and successful teams in the past. When he won his first Balon d’Or, he was a young exciting winger who was part of a formidable Alex Ferguson team in 2008, he then went on to Real Madrid where he excelled in unprecedented fashion at a club in whose DNA was and still is to win titles at the highest level.


In nine seasons spent at Madrid, Ronaldo broke and set numerous outstanding records; He became the club’s all-time highest goalscorer in the UEFA Champions League with 105 goals and also the all-time leading Madridista goalscorer in the LaLiga with 312 goals, a record he still holds till date, these records stand alongside the multiple trophies won including four UCL titles, three of which came in a row for Los Blancos (2017, 2018, 2019), an unprecedented and unmatched achievement for any player or any club in Europe.


Ronaldo also formed illustrious partnerships on the pitch with several players during his stay at Real Madrid. The likes of Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric and co all shone alongside the Portuguese. Also ranking very high among his achievements was the role he played for his country in winning their first ever major international trophy (the Euros) in 2016. 


He departed Real Madrid for Juventus in the summer of 2018 and there is somewhat of a negative pattern that has followed him since then. The Italian giants had just signed one of the greatest players of this generation and also one of the greatest players in football history and there were huge expectations from the fans.


Ruben Loftus-Cheek – What Does the Future Hold for a Player in Between a Rebirth and a Significant Decline?


Prime amongst those expectations was a champions league title amid the club’s perennial dominance of Serie A at the time. From a personal standpoint, Ronaldo no doubt delivered with a total of 101 goals and 22 assists in 134 appearances during the three years he spent in Turin and he also won the Capocannoniere with 29 Serie A goals in 2020/21.


Moreover, his presence in Serie A proved a great pull and PR for the league and the club as followership increased from across the world but the ultimate aim of winning the UCL was never achieved as Ronaldo of all people couldn’t help but watch the Bianconeri get eliminated in the knockout stages by Ajax, Lyon, and Porto in the three seasons he spent at the club. Juventus also failed to win the Serie A in 2021 for the first time in close to a decade as they just managed to finish fourth the season before Ronaldo left the club. 


The 37-year-old returned to Manchester United last summer, a move which was initially treated with so much excitement from the United fanbase but almost a year later, things do not look as promising as they seemed from the onset. Manchester United couldn’t better or at least match the second-placed finish they had in the Premier League a season before Ronaldo’s arrival and to make matters worse they missed out on UCL qualification with a 6th placed finish behind Arsenal in fifth.


Hold on a minute. Ronaldo was Man United’s top scorer last season with 18 league goals for the club, and he also dragged his team by the scruff of its neck to the knockout stages of the UCL before being overpowered by Atletico Madrid, so it’s another story of Ronaldo scoring goals which are seemingly not enough for his team’s successes. But what fault does he have? Is he playing in the right system or does his presence in a team create a desperate over-reliance that negatively impacts the team?


Well, it looks more like the latter because one thing is common with both Juventus and Manchester United, both teams do not have the personnel in terms of ability and mentality to match the best in the business. All the squads Ronaldo have been part of since 2018 cannot match the Man Citys, PSGs and Real Madrids of this world. 


The player closest to Ronaldo in terms of profile as at the time he played for Juventus was Paulo Dybala, a player who recently joined AS Roma as a free agent after failing to attract the best clubs outside of Italy. The team also had an aging Giorgi Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci in defence alongside players like Juan Cuadrado, Adrien Rabiot, and Alvaro Morata amongst others who are no doubt good players but are not consistent enough to hold starting places in the best teams in Europe and it was just a matter of time for Juventus to lose their air of invincibility in the Serie A which immediately got more competitive following Ronaldo’s arrival.


Luka Modric and the Art of Reinventing Oneself in Football


His arrival also coincided with the period where other top Serie A clubs like Inter Milan and AC Milan decided to wake up from their slumber and be competitive again. Inter hired Antonio Conte, the man who started the Juventus title streak and they made some significant business in the transfer market with the signing of players like Romelu Lukaku who took the league by storm.


The team that dethroned Juventus had Achraf Hakimi, Lautaro Martinez, Nicolo Barella, Marcelo Brozovic amongst others with one of the greatest tacticians of the modern era Antonio Conte on the touchline, a man who against the odds conquered the English Premier League two years before his return to Italy, and for a Juventus team who felt too comfortable and didn’t make much effort to build a team that would stand the test of time as though the league title was their birthright, their fall wasn’t supposed to be a shock.


They seemed to lack direction at a point, going from a manager like Max Allegri to Maurizio Sarri to Andrea Pirlo. Ronaldo’s presence could have been a big pull in attracting the best of managers and the best of players but they failed to leverage on that and the situation of the club is not any better even as things stand.


Manchester United have suffered from a somewhat similar problem, theirs may even be worse because they have failed to pose any title challenge or win any trophy in the last five years. Their second-placed finish in the 2020/21 season wasn’t even a title challenge as local rivals Man City cruised to the title with a 12 points margin in a season where Liverpool who finished third suffered various injury setbacks and Chelsea who finished fourth had their own problems which led to a mid-season managerial change.


Both Juventus and Manchester United signed Ronaldo probably thinking the Portuguese would deliver the biggest trophies on a platter but as recent events have shown, those thoughts only amount to fantasy in a team that lacks structure and ambition. The fact is, you would always need so many pieces to complete a puzzle and for Manchester United, they didn’t even have any business in signing Ronaldo last summer when they up till date haven’t addressed the areas in need of dire attention in their squad but was his arrival part of their problems last season?


Whether yes or no, this has proven hugely debatable but the fact is he is put in the team to score goals and he does that expertly. Though, there may be an argument from a tactical point of view that at the age of 37, he can no longer on a consistent basis fulfill a huge requirement of the modern game which is the high press and that is only natural given his age and put him in a better team, the issue of the team not winning games or finishing in the top four because one player can’t press would be very less of a debate. 


Tactical Analysis: Zinedine Zidane’s 2016/17 Real Madrid Side


Also, the statistics tell a different story in terms of Cristiano Ronaldo being overly or unusually selfish. The fact is there are just very few centre-forwards or strikers in world football who double as both number 9 and number 10, a very good example of an exception to the conventional selfish striker is Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane who is a very rare gem of a striker and also Karim Benzema of Real Madrid and it’s difficult to point out a world-class striker who can replicate their abilities to play as a 9 and a half. 


Ronaldo as a striker has one of the best positional senses in world football but he does not only wait in the box for tap-ins as many usually claim, his overall involvement in team play especially in and around the opposition half is quite impressive for a ‘selfish’ player.


In the Premier League last season, the former Real Madrid striker created a total of seven big chances, more than players like Martin Ødegaard (6), Raheem Sterling (5), Jack Grealish (5), Riyad Mahrez (5), and teammate Jadon Sancho (5) and Harry Kane (19), Ivan Toney (10), Gabriel Jesus (8), and Teemu Pukki (8) were the only strikers to have created more big chances than Ronaldo last season. 


According to stats via www.infogol.net, Ronaldo completed a total of 728 passes out of an attempt 887, boasting of a passing accuracy of 82% and despite creating more big chances than players like Sancho and Thiago Alcantara, the former still ended the season with the same number of assists as him (3) while the latter had more with four assists.


Hence, some question marks on the conversion rate of Manchester United’s attackers. Does that have to do with the over-reliance mentioned earlier? That feeling that no matter what happens, we have Ronaldo and he will certainly score for us? There is no tangible evidence to prove that but it seems like it. 


Cristiano Ronaldo clearly looks like he still has the quality that can benefit any team in the world, so why are clubs not willing to take him? It may be beyond footballing reasons. It is most likely as a result of his personality and what his mere presence could cause in a team, squad or dressing room.


Lisandro Martínez – The ‘Pitbull’ That Manchester United Have Needed


In terms of personality, Ronaldo is arguably the biggest player in the world and not many modern-day managers are brave enough to take up the task of having a five-time Balon d’Or winner and big hitter like Cristiano Ronaldo as it requires a whole lot and a different level of man management to accommodate such a player in your team.


His arrival could probably utter the balance of things and change the way things are done. Of course, having big personalities could be key to success at certain levels but the negative effects that could stem from poor man management or a lack of it could be well and truly disastrous. 


Ronaldo started from the bench in Man United’s 2-1 loss to Brighton on Sunday as doubts over his future is yet to be laid to rest. Will he stay at Manchester United this season? Time will tell but between now and September 1st is a very long time in the transfer market as far as super agent Jorge Mendes and Cristiano Ronaldo are involved. Nothing can be outrightly ruled out yet as one club might just opt to take the risk at the drying minutes. 


By: Moses Adikwu / @Moe_Adikwu

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Matthew Peters / Manchester United