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The interesting dilemma that Ronaldo would pose for any Manchester United manager

It appears Cristiano Ronaldo has been in great form so far this season, although still nowhere near the imperious form he could whip up in an instant almost at will when he was at his peak in his younger years. However, at almost 37 years old, it’s obvious the greatest nemesis steadily overtaking him is not even his arch-rival Lionel Messi, but time. With that said, it is inevitable that the Portuguese’s time in the game can’t hold on indefinitely.

That Ronaldo is a fantastic footballer is something totally beyond debate and this season, despite his advancing age, that he is still in the reckoning as one of the best strikers in the football sphere and an asset to Manchester United, so far.

Although it would be sheer folly for anyone to doubt the Portuguese’s ability to still score goals, it is the issue of his advancing age that is the bone of contention for probably most managers, where he will be good enough for a contract that will run for two seasons or so at most after this current one with United runs out.

The mighty CR7 will be 37 in February and the question is probably already in eveyone’s minds whether any in-coming manager of proven worth and experience arriving at Old Trafford to replace Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should realistically chance building their team around the Portugal striker. Suffice it to say that their current Norwegian gaffer clearly lacks the kohonas, tactical nous and the experience to even barely cope with all the complications that a misfiring Ronaldo could bring to the team, let alone know how to prudently manage the latter to get the best out of him. With a CV listing Cardiff – that was relegated when he joined as their manager – and Molde as his key references, this is clearly understandable.

It has been clear so far this season that in order to facilitate Ronaldo’s goal-scoring prowess, even the best managers in the game have to be prepared to accommodate for quite a few missing parts in his game as he is no longer the Ronaldo of the earlier years.

For one, he isn’t one who passes the ball much so and he tries to ensure that he is always the last point of any United attack. Secondly, the conservation of energy being foremost, he only makes a move for balls he thinks give him the chance of a potent shot at goal. Last but definitely not least, his limitations in the area of defensive work and pressing when the ball isn’t with United are now almost as legendary as his goal-scoring is. In short, for better or for worse, the man’s sole purpose of existence on the pitch is to score goals. Period.

In all fairness, Solskjaer has attempted to combat this issue by flanking Ronaldo out wide and with Edinson Cavani playing in the center, only that the viability couldn’t continue with the return of Marcus Rashford, which subsequently prompted him to opt for the formation of playing two strikers in a 3-5-2 with Ronaldo alongside Cavani again.

The strategy held good in the game against a totally lackluster Tottenham side led by an uninspired Harry Kane and Solskjaer’s skin was saved. However in the following match against Manchester City, missing an unfit Cavani, Ronaldo as expected did no leg work and a clearly superior City dominated the proceedings. For what it was worth, the Portuguese striker was almost totally ineffectual that day on the pitch for all his efforts.

On the flip side, however, if Ronaldo hadn’t been on the field against Atalanta in both of the club’s fixtures, especially the return match, United would most likely have been dumped out of the Champions League at this point and Solskjaer likely already job-less.

So what have we established so far? That primarily Solskjaer is absolutely clue-less when it comes to determining the best fit for Ronaldo in the team, especially since the Norwegian gaffer himself is all out at sea wondering how to best use all the supremely talented players at his disposal and has been criticised for resorting to using only his favorite usual suspects regardless of their form.

Solskjaer aside, what then if or when he is replaced as manager and a new coach comes in with a totally different game-plan?

To date, the managers United have been linked with – from Mauricio Pochettino, Brendan Rodgers and Eric ten Hag to Zinedine Zidane – all expect their strikers to do a lot of leg work so it is highly unlikely they would want Ronaldo to be the focal point of their attack.

The next major issue confronting any one of the afore-mentioned super coaches would be to justify the rationale of building a dedicated system with everything structured around an idiosyncratic striker who would be almost impossible to replace when his time is up within a few seasons at most.

In Ronaldo’s case, his ability to score goals is almost peerless and we are not talking about building a team around a much younger Ronaldo in his twenties or even a 30-year-old goal-scoring machine. And, realistically, any manager worth his salt who comes in to replace Solskjaer knows that he will be attempting to build a foolproof system around a soon-to-be 37-year-old, with there being no guarantees he will stay a year later down the road, if things don’t go the way he has hoped for. Which was why he was so eager to make a beeline for the exit at Juventus when it was clearly shown he could not achieve their Champions League ambitions for a few years running.

United, should they be truly serious in their intentions to replace Solskjaer, need to pick a manager with a proven record of rebuilding squads besides also possessing the flexibility to adapt to situations, without having to resort to needless new signings in the coming summer as they already have access to loads of incredibly-talented players spending inordinate amounts of time on the bench. Not forgetting of course Ronaldo.

Whoever is finally destined for the United dugout will have to contend with the unique dilemma of how to factor in the great Portuguese striker, and prima donna, the moment he walks into the dressing room at Old Trafford. This is not something that United can close an eye to trying to decide on whom they want to lead this club, and the great institution it represents, forward.

Manchester United clearly, and desperately, need someone who can get the best out of Ronaldo while he’s still here and available, and yet know how to quickly move on from him once he clambers on top of his steed and heads for the horizon when his time arrives.

Credit: Football Tribe Malaysia