With the skipper’s armband surprisingly handed over to him by Manchester United’s interim gaffer, Cristiano Ronaldo himself would certainly have been the last person in the whole stadium to expect himself to have no recourse but to endure an exasperatingly difficult evening against Wolves where his own contributions as both captain and striker were virtually nil throughout a full duration of 90 minutes that mystifyingly ended up with his place in the team seemingly not under threat.
Altogether it was most certainly a night for the Red Devils to quickly forget against Wolves on Monday as wi the exception of Phil Jones and perhaps David de Gea, no other player should have been contented with their performance, individually or as a team.
The main obvious culprit himself was Ronaldo, donning the captain’s armband that seemed to be adding an unwieldy weight on his shoulders as he barely managed to eke out a dismal, lackluster non-performance that was totally subdued. The Portuguese striker was clearly ineffective going forward and also oddly dropping far too deep attempting to find touches, playing almost by himself on the periphery while Wolves was in clear domination as the usually cocksure CR7 failed miserably to help United in the build-up.
This had been one of Ronaldo’s worst games since he returned to Old Trafford, yet never at any one point did it seem that Rangnick had any intention whatsoever of substituting the Portuguese forward.The interim manager’s post-match comments about the substitution of Mason Greenwood was particularly telling, as he said: “The question was shall I take off Mason or shall I take off Edi [Cavani], that was the question. We decided to keep Edi as the more offensive, the more striker of the two on the pitch. I take off Mason, that was my call.
“We could also have done it in a different way but it shows how highly how the fans like Mason as a homegrown player and, as I said, his effort and performance was not outstanding but at least he was one of the better players today.”
The German tactician’s decision to sub Greenwood was immediately greeted by boos from the United fans inside an immensely disgruntled and disillusioned Old Trafford because up until that point he had arguably been the team’s best player going forward. Yet strangely Rangnick obdurately refused to mention the possibility of Ronaldo also being an option to come off for Bruno Fernandes despite the former’s squalid performance.
Despite having scored a number of last-minute goals this season, it is becoming rather obvious that Ronaldo’s reputation for scoring clutch goals is garnering noticeably less rewards of late as over the last few matches his performance levels have plummeted considerably by his own stellar standards to the extent that when he is not scoring the goals he’s long developed a reputation for, it quickly becomes a question of whether this is all actually at a detriment to United’s performance as a team.
For sure, additional reports surfacing of a dressing-room revolt will not in any way enhance the interim boss’ reputation that is already under scrutiny now and, candidly, if the German is indeed seriously intent on improving United’s fortunes on the pitch, then some really tough decisions would have to be necessitated on certain individuals insofar as who best suit the needs of the team against different rival clubs.
Oddly, regardless of whether it is for fitness or for form, it is clearly discernible that since the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, only Michael Carrick has had the kohonas to drop Ronaldo from a game, which could be sending an indirect message to the rest of the squad.
Regardless of his standing and reputation whether past or present, there should be no room for mushy, misplaced sentiment if Rangnick is dead serious about removing some of the thorny issues still persisting in this squad. Against some rivals, Ronaldo’s style of play will be a boon benefitting United, but this is turning out to be highly unlikely of late.
Rangnick should seriously consider taking a page from Thomas Tuchel’s playbook on how to handle prima donnas who ought to be given the cold shoulder treatment and thaw out on ice as just another member of United’s squad, with his performances deciding whether he is deserving to start.
Rangnick could do worse than to consider how Thomas Tuchel has managed the Romelu Lukaku circus at Chelsea in recent days in the wake of the controversial comments the Belgian made during an interview with Sky Sports in Italy that resulted in him being left out of the squad against Liverpool last weekend and has ultimately resulted in a groveling apology to the incensed Blues fans.
While Ronaldo’s situation is not an exact parallel, it is still a familiar case of how no one player can be considered bigger than the sum of the parts that comprise a team. As it stands, United already risk exacerbating this problem to become one with a continued undroppable status.
Former Inter Milan’s Lukaku had returned to Stamford Bridge in the summer with big expectations due to his price tag but Tuchel has never let that get in the way of his ambitions for the team, who are not exactly thronged with superstars and whose Champions League win last season under the German was strategically carved out on unified strong team ethics.
Rangnick’s era may be defined on whether or not he can offer a similar hardline stance to any under-performers at United, regardless of their status.