Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United a double-edged sword for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United will be seen as a fairy-tale conclusion to a magnificent career, played out at ‘The Theatre Of Dreams’ he graced for so long.
The 36-year-old superstar has always held a special place in the hearts of everyone at Old Trafford after winning the Champions League, three Premier Leagues, the FA Cup and two League Cups in a glittering six-year stay under his mentor Sir Alex Ferguson before an £80m move to Real Madrid in 2009.
The current Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will rightly celebrate Ronaldo’s landmark return – but it is also a double-edged sword for the Norwegian, who is still in search of his first trophy and cannot afford to wait much longer for success given more vast transfer outlay this summer.
Ronaldo will be greeted as the returning hero, the homecoming Old Trafford has always longed for but never seriously thought would materialise, and it will be a special occasion when he walks out once more as a Manchester United player.
It was a moment of high emotion when he came back with Real Madrid in a Champions League last-16 second-leg tie in March 2013, Ronaldo tapping his heart in appreciation as he received a thunderous, prolonged standing ovation when he was introduced before kick-off.
He responded in the only way he knew, scoring the winner but celebrating in subdued fashion as Ferguson’s last attempt to add another Champions League to his CV was snuffed out. Sentiment is not in his DNA. Success is.
Now he is at Old Trafford again, this time in the red of Manchester United once more, Solskjaer will hope he brings that priceless commodity back with him.
Ferguson’s father-son relationship with Ronaldo played a key role in diverting him away from the unthinkable outcome of signing for Manchester City, a move that would have threatened even his iconic status among United fans, in favour of this sensational comeback after 12 years away at Real and then Juventus.
It is a remarkable strike in the markets by United, one that will be paraded as a coup over arch-rivals and Premier League champions City.
The Glazers, owners still despised by large sections of United’s support, will say it is another signal that they are steadfast in their financial backing for Solskjaer, no matter what their critics think of them.
United may be in desperate need of another quality midfield player but how could they seriously ignore the chance to re-sign someone who is a gold-plated United legend, the man won the first of his five Ballons d’Or after inspiring United’s Champions League win in 2008?
Ronaldo brings stardust, a touch of sporting romance and enduring quality to Old Trafford. He is still in remarkable shape at 36, still so potent even in an underachieving Juve side, scoring 35 goals in all competitions last season, outstripping Romelu Lukaku, who scored 30 before his £97.5m move from Inter Milan to Chelsea.
He will add stature to United’s team, a touchstone for young talent such as Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford and the other new player on the block £73m Jadon Sancho.
And in psychological terms, all of United’s rivals will know they have to deal with a threat level on a significantly higher scale after the arrival of one of the game’s all-time greats, someone who will be desperate to revisit old glories.
Ronaldo’s mere presence – and his continued output gives the lie to suggestions this signing is simply decoration – also enhances the Premier League.
For Solskjaer, though, for all that it gives him a massive lift, the signing of Ronaldo ratchets up the pressure to bring success, his reign since being appointed permanently in March 2019 a tale of losing the biggest matches and letting the trophies go elsewhere, as when last season’s Europa League final was lost to Villarreal with United red-hot favourites.
United’s hierarchy, for all the gripes about the Glazers and the mass protests that followed the ill-fated flirtation with the European Super League, have come up the with goods again for Solskjaer this summer – at least in terms of transfer funds – and eventually there must be a return.
United spent £73m on Sancho, £34m that could rise to £42m with add-ons for Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane and have now financed Ronaldo’s not inconsiderable personal terms to complete this spectacular deal.
In other words, there can be no excuses for Solskjaer this time.
If Manchester United do not deliver a serious, prolonged title challenge and win a trophy then searching questions will be asked, given the squad Solskjaer has been able to assemble.
Solskjaer has been given the tools to do the job with the unexpected return of the great Ronaldo, a back-to-the-future flourish that will give United a thrilling extra dimension.
With Harry Maguire and Varane at the heart of defence, Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes pulling the strings as both creators and goalscorers in the engine room and Ronaldo added to the newcomer Sancho, along with another ageless and still hugely effective striker in Edinson Cavani, Solskjaer’s United simply cannot be seen to fall off the pace behind champions Manchester City, Liverpool and Champions League holders Chelsea.
By pushing the boat out one more time, and in such sensational style, Solskjaer has been given every opportunity to prove the doubters wrong and show that he really is up to the job of bringing success back to Manchester United.
No-one would bet against Cristiano Ronaldo delivering his part of the bargain. And, in doing so, Solskjaer will hope he finally helps him deliver his.