Cristiano Ronaldo wants to leave Manchester United. But nobody wants Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo wants to leave Manchester United. He wanted to leave before manager Erik ten Hag benched him for Monday’s massive game against Liverpool; and before the two humiliating defeats that preceded it. He wants to leave because, according to widespread reports, he wants to play in the Champions League at a club that can match his ambitions.
However, there is one particularly inhibiting problem for football’s biggest star: no such club seem to want him.
Ronaldo informed Man United of his wish on or before July 2. Seven and a half weeks later, the most legitimate interest in his services appears to come from his youth side, Sporting Clube de Portugal. There was also reportedly a lucrative offer from an unnamed club in Saudi Arabia, which Ronaldo naturally turned down. There was none of anything remotely resembling a Champions League contender.
At 37, Ronaldo is no longer the serial winner he once was. He remains a ruthless goalscorer but was either unwilling or unable to spearhead the type of defensive press that is increasingly defining modern football. He is a devaluing asset with an astronomical salary whose stature and ego to match now outweigh his skills to the detriment of his club.
United now seem to understand all of that. Monday was better without Ronaldo and maybe it will continue. Ten Hag have publicly backed him but privately the club are reportedly ready to let him go.
However, United have merely realized what most of their superclub peers did long ago.
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When reports of Ronaldo’s transfer bid surfaced in early July, they came with lists of potential suitors. Chelsea and Bayern Munich were mentioned first. PSG, Atletico Madrid, Inter Milan and AC Milan have all hit the headlines since then. Borussia Dortmund is said to have gotten involved in the fray last week.
But almost always, and untypically, these clubs have actively distanced themselves from Ronaldo – in some cases publicly. “As much as I rate Cristiano Ronaldo as one of the greatest, a transfer would not fit our philosophy,” said Bayern boss Oliver Kahn to “Kicker”.
Dortmund’s CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke called A change is “a charming idea” for Ronaldo, but said there was “no contact at all between those involved”.
At Atletico Madrid, fans unveiled a blunt banner – ‘CR7 NOT WELCOME’ – as club president Enrique Cerezo confirmed they had nothing to worry about. “I don’t know who invented the Cristiano story,” said Cerezo, “but I’ll tell you that it’s practically impossible for him to come to Atlético de Madrid.”
Meanwhile, reports from other countries hinted at who the inventor might be. PSG and the two Milan giants ‘turned down’ Ronaldo after he was offered them – not by Manchester United but by his agent.
That agent, Jorge Mendes, is the most powerful in global football and a master of media interest. Over the years, countless agents have leaked fabricated or embellished messages to start or accelerate bidding wars for their players. It’s unclear if that’s happening or where all the noise about Ronaldo is coming from, but the dots are connectable.
However, the noise cannot drown out several unchanging truths. Ronaldo is 37 and will be 38 by the end of the season. He is reportedly the highest paid player in England. In the last two seasons he has scored goals, but otherwise not done much without the ball and therefore not contributed to the win. In 2021 he was part of the first Juventus team to give up the Serie A title in 10 years. In 2022, United crashed to sixth place.
At his age and with his eight-figure salary, he is almost certainly not worth a transfer fee. No team paid one for a player over 35 this summer, according to Transfermarkt data, and no team ever paid more than $2.5m for a non-goalkeeper that age until United last summer’s 16.5 Millions of dollars spent on Ronaldo – a move the Red Devils certainly regret now.
He’s not worth his salary either, and so is Ronaldo and the club, unless he’s willing to take a massive pay cut, or United are willing to eat some of that pay to push him away, or Mendes can take his wielding power stuck in a strained marriage without their old magic.
That’s not to say Ronaldo can’t or won’t help United during the remainder of his contract – it expires next summer, although there is an option for a further year. Ten Hag scored the point after a thrilling 2-1 win over Liverpool that Ronaldo hardly contributed to. “We have a squad and we have a way of playing, a style and a game plan,” said the Netherlands coach, and on Monday Ronaldo didn’t fit either. But Ten Hag continued: “Saturday [at Southampton] it could be different.”
In other words, there will be games where United need a goal or maybe a savior and Ronaldo answers the call.
But of course Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t see himself as a role player.
He wants something more, something and someone better.
No one better than United, however, wants him – and neither should they.