You would think that if you took on the burden of returning a… twice–accused rapist for your club, the hierarchy should be pretty sure it would make a huge difference on the pitch. But you are not the Glazer family, who are so desperate to stop Manchester United fans from burning in effigy for five minutes that they are capable of almost anything. Including bringing Cristiano Ronaldo back, even if it doesn’t solve their biggest problems and could cause a few more. That rational thought or hope also ignores that most United supporters, like just about every other fandom on the planet, won’t give a fuck about whatever “baggage” Ronalo is carrying when he returns to where he first globally gained fame. Worldwide fame that has allowed him to brush off the accusations and lawsuit of Kathryn Mayorga and also evade all legal charges.
He may not find it as easy to get rid of these things in Manchester as in Turin, where Juventus were only too happy to shield him from any scrutiny or inquiry. Whether United will go that far is an open question. It is certainly unlikely that the club will see fewer shirt sales than they anticipated given the way these things work, and that is where much of the club’s concerns lie. Ronaldo hasn’t set foot on US soil since the second round of allegations, and United will certainly make a US preseason tour a priority when (if) COVID is never present in our lives to make up for lost gains in the past one and a half year. Will Ronaldo join them? It will make little difference to their profit whether he does it or not. It just creates tricky questions that everyone will have to answer or, more likely, won’t answer. Unfortunately, and again, all of this pales in comparison to the benefits the Glazers see from this transfer. There are certainly parts of United’s support that feel uncomfortable, if not angry, about this, but not nearly enough.
So there it is. On the pitch, what questions Ronaldo answers is another unknown. United was not lacking for an aging, barely mobile target poacher whose only contribution was to finish off opportunities others created. They already had one in Edinson Cavani. And Cavani, only two years younger than Ronaldo, was much more effective in other facets. He was involved in the build-up, providing assists and even thinking of putting pressure on the ball when United didn’t have it.
Ronaldo doesn’t do any of that anymore. There was a time when he was an all-action forward and could give you more than just goals. That time is over. In fact, Ronaldo is one of the worst strikers in world football in recent times, ranking in the 1st percentile when pushing among strikers (thanks to FBREF.com). Ronaldo gave just two assists last year, the lowest figure in his career. And that was no fluke or a result of his teammates’ wayward finish, as his expected numbers match that figure. Ronaldo’s shot-creating moves were also the lowest in his career last season. The number of touches Ronaldo took in the final third was also way down. Basically, he doesn’t get involved until it’s time to shoot, which he still loves to do.
Goals weren’t much of a problem for United last year, as they were the second-most in the league last year with 73. his age (21). United may think Ronaldo will convert more of those opportunities than Cavani or Anthony Martial, but the difference will likely be just in the margins.
And without the ball it could be a real problem. Ronaldo isn’t going to pressure anyone, and Marcus Rashford (when he’s healthy again) isn’t a big ball-press either. Oh, and neither does Sancho, meaning United’s real problem – a midfield that could absolutely be torn apart thanks to a lack of quality defensive centers – could become even more visible. Just yesterday, United only owed Wolves’ lack of finishing to escaping with a 1-0 win, as they waltzed through midfield with the ball whenever they wanted. With pure talent United will come through against many teams, but if they go up against teams that can play their own game against them in the league and in Europe, they can find many raiding hordes reaching their target. And while Ole Gunnar Solskjær has kept everyone happy and got just enough results, he doesn’t come up with a tactical plan to counter it all.
In addition, Ronaldo Bruno Fernandes would completely castrate arguably United’s best player for the past season and a half since his arrival. Fernandes can forget about taking free kicks or penalties, and he won’t really find Ronaldo as many runs for the through balls that he can usually conjure up. Neither is Paul Pogba, and he’s also a reluctant runner without the ball at times, opening that runway for the United defense they’ve yet to close. We got to see a little bit of how Fernandes and Ronaldo are in harmony with Portugal at the European Championship. Fernandes had no goals, no assists, 0.1 expected goals, 0.1 expected assists and four shots, one on target, over four games (two starts). Fernandes does not want or has an obelisk in front of him, but he will get one. Ronaldo is benefiting more from crosses and passing from wide these days, which is not where Fernandes is.
Ronaldo will certainly take home enough gimmes and penalties and a few others to warrant the headlines as long as no one is looking at anything under the hood. But then again, Ronaldo has thrived in recent years due to people’s lack of desire to look below the surface. Why should this be any different?