It happened, the unthinkable, the unimaginable. One of the greatest players of all time, Cristiano Ronaldo, returned to Manchester United after 12 years away. It all happened spectacularly too, as Ronaldo looked all set to join Manchester City, prompting United’s coaching staff, former players, board, and Sir Alex Ferguson to intervene. Undeniably one of the greatest players of all time, battling with Lionel Messi for most of the 21st century, Ronaldo’s signing sent shockwaves around the world. His move follows his nemesis Messi’s departure from Barcelona to join Paris Saint-Germain.
Even the most pessimistic United fans have been beaming with happiness, resurrecting their old jerseys and talking smugly again. Such is the joy and euphoria having Ronaldo back has provided. However, lost in the excitement is the fact that Ronaldo asked to leave Juventus and they were all too willing to let him leave for peanuts. I will likely get a lot of flak from Ronaldo supporters, but what is clear is that Cristiano fell short of expectations in Turin. Maybe a more accurate description may be that Juventus fell short with him in their team. Blaming him solely for the Bianconeri’s regression would be unfair. However, his signing is indirectly at fault for their current situation. Juventus signed Cristiano after winning the Italian Serie-A for seven years straight and also going to the Champions League finals twice in four years. In the UCL, Juve lost in the finals to Messi’s Barca and Ronaldo’s Real Madrid. They also suffered at the hands of Ronaldo’s brilliance in the UCL Semi-Finals.
In 134 appearances in Turin, he recorded 101 goals and 22 assists and can’t be faulted for not giving his all. Juventus won the league title in 2 of his 3 seasons there, but their dominance waned in that period. They struggled to win the title in 19/20, only winning by 1 point, and in 2021 they surrendered their title to Inter Milan. It wasn’t just that they lost the league, but they didn’t put up much of a fight and ended up in a scrap to make the Champions League, eventually finishing fourth,12 points behind champions Inter. In his three seasons in Italy, Ronaldo only won one Golden Boot, having been outscored by the aged Fabio Quagliarella and Ciro Immobile, previously. Ronaldo also only won the Serie A MVP award once, losing out to Dybala and Lukaku on the other occasions. It’s safe to say Ronaldo was not the dominant player in Italy as he was at Real Madrid, but they did not sign him to win Serie A.
However, when it came to the European knockout ties, Ronaldo’s magic that was on display at Real Madrid was too infrequent. Perhaps his best European night was scoring a hattrick in the round of 16 against Atletico after Juventus had lost the first leg 2 nil. Ronaldo single-handedly sent them through and it was exactly the kind of performance they signed the icon for. In 2018/19, Cristiano had perhaps his best moment as a Juventus player. Having lost the round of 16 first leg to Atletico Madrid 2-0, the forward single-handedly sent Juventus through with a second-leg hat-trick to turn the tie on its head. However, the team then fell out in the next round to Ajax, then in the next two seasons, they fell to Lyon and Porto at the same stage. None of these teams are teams a Cristiano-led Juventus should be losing to, but they did and at times were outplayed, only being spared embarrassing final score lines by the limitations of their opponents.
Ronaldo was signed for over $100 million and was the highest-paid player in Italy. That meant Juventus could not strengthen in other areas as they would have liked. With that said, the team still possessed the right mix of experience and young talent to have done much better in Europe. Having 3 of the best center-backs in the world in Leo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Matthijs De ligt, and talented young players like Weston McKennie, Paulo Dybala, Federico Chiesa just wasn’t enough to end Juventus’ UCL drought. Juventus’ brand improved with the signing of Cristiano with their growth on social media and an added increase in income from Adidas and Jeep as a result of having him at the club. United, being one of the biggest brands in football, will benefit from his signing with their stock price already soaring after the announcement of his signing. However, with Ronaldo now gone, though, those followers, temporary fans, and sponsorship deals are likely to go with him.
Juventus are without the Champions League trophy that he was signed to bring. What’s more damning is that they are now, for the first time in a decade, playing a Serie A season without being champions of Italy. While United fans and former players are all excited and beaming at Gazumping City to Ronaldo’s signing, his time in Turin should serve as a reminder to temper expectations unless a team is built around the forward that will get the best out of him. Ronaldo is seen as a set-piece specialist, with aerial prowess and lethal finishing, with United in need of a center-forward presence amid doubts over Edinson Cavani’s future availability due to his participation with Uruguay in World Cup Qualifiers as well as his fitness issues.
While Juventus are arguably better in defence than United currently are, their creativity in midfield pales in comparison to United’s options with Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes. United also have better forward options than Juventus, with the likes of Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, and Jadon Sancho being tantalizing options to partner with Ronaldo up front. United are not without flaws, given their midfield conundrum of not having a top central defensive midfielder as well as where to play Paul Pogba to get the best out of him.
Ronaldo is much different from the kid with speed and a box full of trickery. At 36, he is no longer the blur of improvisational brilliance we became so accustomed to during his first stint and during his time at Real Madrid. United fans can forget him cantering down the wing and slaloming past full-backs regularly. Ronaldo is different now, but so intelligent is the player that he has adapted to his age and has become a predator in the box, still able to score from all angles and leap higher than players stronger and younger than him.
Man United will have to create a cohesive and structured unit built around their returning talisman and provide him with consistent service in the box, whether it comes from their midfield maestros or from down the wing. United fans should no doubt be happy about signing the best player to ever don their bright red, but should also have reasonable expectations for his last dance.