Martin Samuel: Manchester United Has 99 Problems But Cristiano Ronaldo is One of Them

Martin Samuel: Manchester United Has 99 Problems But Cristiano Ronaldo is One of Them

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07 Mar 2022
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Cristiano Ronaldo

Manchester City leads Manchester United 6-1 in league matches this season and it appears that there are more issues at Old Trafford than whether Cristiano Ronaldo is playing.

At the present, Cristiano Ronaldo’s value to the club is as a human shield. While the rest of the world debates Ronaldo’s long- and short-term future at Old Trafford, as well as who is to blame for his move not being as transformative as promised, others inside the club get some respite.

Players, coaches, and the hierarchy, notably those in charge of transfer policy, are all involved. Everyone can hide behind the Ronaldo saga. With claims and counter-claims concerning his fitness and readiness, it dominated the immediate build-up to this match (the derby).

As the game started, a whole other set of issues appeared. United’s defense, midfield, forward line, and heart are all strong. There isn’t a single aspect of the club that is now functioning like an elite team should. They didn’t even have the desire to compete towards the end of the second half.

United has 99 issues, but Ronaldo is just one of them. He’s a major player who generates big headlines no matter what he does, so it’s a big one.

United, on the other hand, isn’t losing because of Ronaldo, and they aren’t winning because of him either. He could have played on Sunday and City would still have won, possibly by the same score line.

Ronaldo has received as many bookings as goals since Christmas, and after scoring twice against Arsenal on December 2, he has only scored against two relegation candidates, Burnley and Norwich, as well as Brighton. United has only won two of his last seven games in which he has played.

In his stint as interim manager, Ralf Rangnick has only lost two games. Those figures, however, do not convey the whole story. Manchester United is a world-class club. They should be able to win the majority of their games. Unless it’s against equals, draws are defeats for an elite club.

So, while Rangnick did not legally lose to Newcastle, Aston Villa, Burnley, Southampton, or Watford – or even Middlesbrough in the FA Cup, albeit on penalties – those draws felt more like defeats at the top level. And that was confirmed on Sunday.

When up against truly top competition, led by Kevin De Bruyne, one of the best footballers in the world, United came up short. This is also supported by the league table. United sits a point behind Arsenal, a gap that may widen to ten points if games in hand are taken into account.

Tottenham might also be four points ahead if they take advantage of great matchups. Even West Ham are only two points apart. A string of results has put United in jeopardy of retaining their UEFA Conference League spot next season.

Wherever Ronaldo sees himself in the future, it’s unlikely to be Tallinn on a Thursday. Edinson Cavani, Paul Pogba, and a slew of other players are in the same boat. This is a group that has become disoriented. Harry Maguire isn’t the same player he was at Hull, much less Leicester, and his partnership with Victor Lindelof was the most unconvincing since Ant and Dec in drag.

Scott McTominay’s love of combat will appeal to people who enjoy a Sunday roast, but the reality is that he would not have been a regular starter in any of the great Manchester United teams of the Premier League era, and Fred is no exception.

Given the absence of Ronaldo and Cavani, it was clear that Elanga was favoured over Marcus Rashford. United used to develop fantastic young players, but today they are failing to do so.

Ronaldo was going to set an example for these grads, showing them what it takes to get to the top and stay there. Rashford is making a U-turn. Under Louis Van Gaal, he looked better raw. Rangnick stated before the game that Manchester United could not afford to make any more blunders in the transfer market. Given the club’s size, this is usually always an expensive proposition. Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, Donny van de Beek, and even Maguire, despite his recent difficulties.

Nonetheless, few foresaw difficulty at the time. These were excellent players. In numerous situations, United was thought to have gotten ahead of their opponents. Antonio Conte’s discontent at Chelsea stems in part from the club’s failure to sign Romelu Lukaku.

So, what went wrong? The modern United States came into being. A squad that hires people based on how they will behave on social media rather than how they will perform on the field. We know exactly how Harry Kane would have fit into Pep Guardiola’s team structure if he had joined Manchester City. Would he seem as bewildered and ineffective if he joined United this summer as he occasionally does for Tottenham? The transfer market isn’t an exact science, and past performance isn’t always indicative of future success, especially at United. Last week, Guardiola referred to Ronaldo as “a goalscoring machine.” Since his return to Old Trafford, he hasn’t worn it.

Rangnick claimed on Sunday that Ronaldo had a hip problem, despite reports on social media that he was fine and ready to play. Ronaldo’s sister was a fan of one such conspiracy theory.

It wouldn’t have meant as much with any other player, but this is Ronaldo, so his every emotion and detail in the story is scrutinized. It’s inconvenient, but it’s also entertaining.

Was he let go? Is he hurt in any way? I’m curious as to what he’s thinking. I’m not sure where he’s headed. Inadvertently, he’s still doing his job if this is the discourse following a 4-1 loss against Manchester City. Because the real question is: how is it that such a conclusion is no longer surprising?

  • Cristiano Ronaldo
  • manchester united
  • Martin Samuel
  • Ralph Rangnick
  • Livescore (livescore)
  • Match highlights

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