Cristiano Ronaldo’s emotional return to Manchester United was greeted with eager anticipation from the club’s loyalists as well as football fans from around the world. The Portuguese attacker has so far lived up to the billing, but questions about his impact on the team, on and off the pitch, have created a shadow over the 36-year-old’s re-introduction to Manchester United.
Ronaldo has often been the main figure in his respective teams, possessing the quality to conjure up the individual brilliance that would bail his teammates out of dire situations time and time again. However, over the course of the last few years, critics have labeled his presence as a hindrance to the development of the entire group, alluding to the team becoming one-dimensional; in other words, centered around Ronaldo, instead of functioning as a unit and relying on the full support of the starting XI.
This particular assessment was highlighted during Ronaldo’s time in Turin, where his now former teammates claimed Juventus “lost their identity” and created something of a sub-culture where they were overly reliant on CR7. Leonardo Bonnuci’s comments were particularly of note, where it was revealed that though the center back was fond of Ronaldo’s stature as a football player, he was wary that it came with some negative impacts as well.
“In the recent past we had lost this characteristic from Juve, we were playing with a great champion like CR7 and we wanted to put him in a position to always do well, thinking he could solve all the matches,” he told Rai Sport late last year.
The problem has seemingly seeped over into his Manchester United return and since his second debut, the club has failed to live up to pre-season expectations. Many have been searching for answers as to why this United team is still underperforming.
Questions have been circulated around Ronaldo’s impact on the team, focusing on the marginalization of last season’s stand-out performers like Mason Greenwood and Edinson Cavani as casualties of the number 7’s return to the club.
However, a few of Ronaldo’s former teammates at Manchester United like Mikael Silvertre have come to the defense of the five-time Ballon D’or winner, highlighting the players’ goal contributions since August.
“Look at the ratio of goals scored to chances created since the start of the season. He wants to win trophies. He didn’t come to United to relax pre-retirement – it’s an even bigger challenge than he’s faced before,” Silvestre stated in his recent interview with the Daily Mirror.
Yes, individually, especially for a player of Ronaldo’s age, he has been exceptional, statistically defying the odds while time and time again rescuing this Manchester United team out of losing positions. Not only did “Mr. Champions League” managed to impress in his favourite competition yet again, but he single handedly pulled United through the group stages, having scored in every UCL group stage game he played in, in 2021. An unprecedented feat.
However, the argument that Ronaldo has impacted the team negatively could hold some merit. The criticism isn’t an indictment on his contribution to the team as he has once again fulfilled his role as a goal scorer, contributing to 11 goals in 16 appearances for the Red Devils this season. However, his role within the team, being the center of the majority of United’s attack, has led to less focus being placed on cohesiveness and the inevitable reaction of the players to look for their talisman every time they go forward.
On the other hand, this assessment may be misguided and unfair. To say the least, the Manchester United team he played in between the years of 2003 and 2009 was tailored to suit his assets and resulted in 3 Premier League titles and one UEFA Champions League trophy. He further went on to experience the same treatment at Real Madrid, where the rest, as we would say, is history.
The problem would therefore not be, as many critics have naively stated, Ronaldo’s presence as the focal point in the team. Instead, it is the lack of quality around him that is unable to fulfil their responsibilities within the team. To have one man be the main source of your attacking output, without the quality players around to support him, most times it will lead to a negative impact on the team.