ARNAV KHANNA | 28th August 2021

If you pay a visit to Manchester United’s Twitter account, you would notice that the announcement confirming Cristiano Ronaldo’s return sits on over a million likes. It has barely been an hour since the club’s social media admin hit “send tweet” as I’m typing away, trying to make sense of a 48 hours that made none.

Ronaldo’s return to United is a marriage of magnitudes that is simply unprecedented. Two absolutely gargantuan institutions partnering up for a last dance, ever since they split ways back in 2009.

And oh, what a contrasting ride it has been.

It would be pedantic to go into the details but ever since the Portuguese juggernaut bid adieu in 2009, he has scored 329 league goals while all of United No.7’s ever since have put the ball in the back of the net a combined 24 times. Yes of course, I’m being serious.

Needless to say, the Old Trafford faithful are popping their champagne bottles to see the return of their prodigal son.

And why shouldn’t they be over the moon? The prospect of witnessing CR7 being fed by an attacking artillery of Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford is beyond belief. Mason Greenwood presents an understudy who’s not just there to make up the numbers.

And a Varane-Maguire defensive double-act guarantees 9 out of 10 strikers forgiving themselves for having an off day when this pair turn it on.

Before you forget, a certain Cristiano Ronaldo is off the back of a 29-goal Serie campaign, outscoring the rampant Romelu Lukaku in a team that finished 4th by a whisker.

The only man in history to finish as the top scorer of Premier League, La Liga and Serie A

Over the years, while the former Real Madrid legend has shown he’s also a mere mortal among us; but that doesn’t stop him from continuing to be a force of nature at an age where his peers either call it a day or simply kick a ball about trying to bring the good times back when they’ve overstayed their welcome in all honesty.

And cliched as it may sound, Ronaldo taking the likes of Rashford, Greenwood and Sancho under his wing would be magnificent for such gifted young lads because no one’s been there and done that like the man himself.

But this isn’t the full picture and that is what this thinkpiece is about. The moment you start zooming out, the creases hidden behind the gloss start to appear.

Having your head in the clouds is justifiable if you are United fan but keeping your feet on the ground is everything.

Before yesterday’s incredible scenes, United were being heralded as the “nearly men” and the biggest factor in this branding was their midfield. With a stacked attack and a sturdy defence, the double pivot remains a sight for sore eyes – and it still cannot.

If you lay your team’s foundation on the likes of Fred, Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic being the base, then no matter who stands up-top, it doesn’t make for pretty viewing.

With Scott McTominay out with a pending groin surgery, the midfield is in absolute tatters. And with Pogba operating as a mezzala, the red half of Manchester’s cries for a defensive midfielder are loud when in reality, they possibly need two new additions in the middle of the park.

Sure, the iconic No.7 will be adorned by a man whose legend goes above and beyond the number, but the question that I’d love asking the owners is how the purse strings were loosened up for Ronaldo within 24 hours and yet, a No.6 at the very least is yet to be signed?

While Camavinga isn’t a traditional No.6, the Rennes midfielder would be a gem in the middle of park for United

Ronaldo can, and will run into the best positions possible but if the ball cannot be progressed, if possession cannot be retained, then those runs are merely miles clocked on the datasheet.

With that being said, there are bigger burdens that this club has to carry than a sub-par midfield– the burden of expectations.

Simply put, you simply cannot sign arguably the greatest footballer the planet has ever seen and then play the underdog card. Especially not when you have recruited Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane in the same window.

Yes, a few issues persist but also, we aren’t in Utopia. If you cannot lift any significant silverware with these sorts of pieces, then when and who are you going to lift any with?

While some may argue that with Pogba playing in the frontline, the Red Devils’ hands are tied in terms of possessing a midfield that screams “Premier League champions”, nuance is binned when you sign one of the standout defenders in the world for almost a decade, the only young prince behind the kingly ascendancy of Mbappe and Haaland and the modern era’s greatest goalscorer.

The move weighs heavy on the shoulders of not just Solskjaer or the team but also the club as a whole.

If these final 2 years of Ronaldo’s career do not amount to winning a major trophy, the blow to Old Trafford’s repertoire would be one that is set in stone for history to play its part as an unkind reminder.

What feels cinematic now could feel like a horrow show when Cristiano’s 2-year deal comes to a fruitless end.

Ultimately, with short-term moves like signing a 36-year old elite forward, goals become short-term as well. The safe haven of ‘progress’ is one that makes both the club and its supporters irk because the coup suggests everyone’s here for a good time, not a long time.

There is nowhere left to hide. The club, the manager, the players. Every facet of Manchester United Football Club needs to rise. When Cristiano Ronaldo walks onto that pitch, winning at all costs is all that matters.

If a tide is to be turned, there will never be a better reason to turn it. There will never be a better time. A decade of sustained mediocrity might have plagued this club, but mediocrity is the one thing that Cristiano Ronaldo neither indulges in nor tolerates.

Rejoice, celebrate and ache for the Prince of Manchester has returned for his one last dance. But he isn’t dancing alone and his steps will not be easy to match.

Let’s see which tune plays when he finally steps onto the Old Trafford grass again.

Read More