Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United does not work for either party


When Cristiano Ronaldo returned to Manchester United in 2021, expectations from both sides were high.

Here is the prodigal son, making a dramatic return to Old Trafford to turn around the fortunes of a club struggling to compete at the top level.

And while he showed his goal-scoring prowess in his first season, his returns have ultimately faded away and now the relationship between Ronaldo and Manchester United appears to have soured.

The superstar tried United before the start of the season and the relationship hit a new low in United’s 0-0 draw against Newcastle on Sunday, with Ronaldo replacing Marcus Rashford after 72 minutes.

The Portuguese forward looked unhappy after being roped in by coach Erik ten Hag, but his performance was just as disappointing.

In what was indicative of his form at United recently, Ronaldo managed just one league goal in a season largely confined to substitute appearances.

“We have four games to play in 10 days and I want to keep them fresh especially for the forwards,” Ten Hag told reporters when asked about the decision to drop Ronaldo.

“I want to keep everyone fresh, so we have to tour.”

In truth, Ronaldo’s expectations have probably been unfair.

He is certainly a fading force and no club should pin all their hopes on a 37-year-old, however physically fit they are.

Where he once harassed defenders and finished almost every half-chance, Ronaldo is often caught offside and seems to be trying too hard to find the talismanic talent he once was.

It was summed up by a desperate attempt against Newcastle, when Ronaldo cut the ball past goalkeeper Nick Pope and fired into the net before the shot-stopper was awarded a free-kick. He then received a yellow card for protesting the referee.

Ronaldo’s form has now become a problem for Ten Hag. The Dutchman was responsible for creating a new era at Old Trafford and has set out to establish a new style of play.

Although he has had to adjust his philosophy due to the players at his disposal, it is not difficult to see that Ronaldo is no longer untouchable and that Anthony Martial and Rashford are the preferred striking options in season.

Ronaldo, who lost pre-season when he tried to get away from the club, cannot press the opposition the way others can, which is a key part of how United are trying to play. There is also the issue of his age, and the fact that a club cannot be rebuilt around a 37-year-old target man.

“I want to help him as best as possible. We have certain demands from the players, what we expect in certain positions,” the Netherlands coach told reporters last week when asked about Ronaldo.

“I want to get the best out of him, he is in better shape now and I am happy with that. In the beginning, it was like that (lack of fitness), it is proven once again, no one can miss a pre-season.”

Ronaldo’s dip in form was revealed ahead of Sunday’s game when he was presented with an award for scoring 700 goals for the club in his historic career.

Where he was once a force to be reckoned with, he now has to get used to his new role in a team that seems to have outgrown the club’s need for a legend.

That’s no mean feat for a five-time Ballon d’Or winner and, unfortunately for United, a dressing room cannot function properly when its biggest superstar is unhappy.

But the allure of Ronaldo’s goal-scoring ability hasn’t quite faded yet.

Had he still been on the field for Rashford against Newcastle, he probably would have buried a last-minute header that the Englishman could only steer wide.

That’s why, despite all the problems he presents, Manchester United still can’t ignore arguably the greatest goalscorer in the history of the game.