Opinion: Cristiano Ronaldo should be allowed to leave.

Ronaldo’s potential Manchester United exit has been too well publicised to be done on the backburner. Erik ten Hag cannot allow this to consume his first summer.

2008. Manchester United won the Champions League over Chelsea in Moscow with Cristiano Ronaldo on the scoresheet. Had he been allowed to fulfil his desires in the summer that followed, the Portuguese would’ve swapped Old Trafford for the Santiago Bernabeu. ‘I am a slave’ – he said, agreeing with then FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s comments advocating for a transfer for Ronaldo to Madrid. Despite this, Ronaldo stayed for one more year.
2008, however, was a different time for Manchester United. The victors in the Champions League back then did not even qualify for the tournament this year. There is no longer an omnipotent manager who has built a dynasty at the helm. Sir Alex Ferguson was, and still is, viewed paternally by Cristiano Ronaldo. This is no slight on Erik ten Hag, but with the Dutchman in his first formative months at United and no Champions League football on offer; the proposition of staying at United for a player with limited time left at the top and a desire to win immediately is not so attractive.
This is even before considering Ronaldo’s profile and standing; which is far larger compared to when he first wanted to leave Manchester United. Ronaldo left for Madrid as the best player in the world, with a Balon d’Or already won in Manchester. Whilst he is no longer the best player in the world, Ronaldo is now looking to leave as an all time great. As the cliche goes, no player is bigger than the club – but Ronaldo, his brand, and following are mammoth and cannot be easily controlled by any club. If, now, he wants to leave, he will probably have his wish granted immediately.

When questioned about what Ronaldo would bring to his squad, Erik ten Hag responded by simply saying ‘goals’. To the point, and accurate about who was overwhelmingly United’s top scorer last term, but Ronaldo arguably did provide more than just goals last year. Now, however, it is unquestionable that Ronaldo would bring an awful lot more than goals: but in this case not so positive for Erik ten Hag’s new project. The most important aspect of Ronaldo’s signing was his influence – something Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick could not harness to inspire United to success. To say that it would be equally difficult for Erik ten Hag to work with him if that influence is pointing away from Manchester United is an understatement. This is before examining any tactical angle or longer term considerations on how Ronaldo might feature in Erik ten Hag’s project.
Last season, Ronaldo was pivotal at times for United. It was often clear that he was one of the only players who believed that the team would win. On two occasions, he scored hat-tricks in games where the opposition scored twice. His goals were vital in ensuring United progressed out of the Champions League group stages. At the age of 37, Ronaldo’s 18 Premier League goals are sensational. He has won thirty-four trophies in his career and his status as one of the greatest players of all time should be a useful tool in galvanising any dressing room. The problem in United’s case is that it probably hasn’t galvanised their squad in the way they would’ve hoped. Whilst Ronaldo’s form – aside for a spell between January and March of this year – has been good, the team have not followed with him. That has not always been his problem.
However, Cristiano Ronaldo’s influence has now reached a stage where it is more of a problem than a solution. Ronaldo may not be the heart of Ten Hag’s project himself but he is arguably United’s best player and thus should be relied on by the team if he remains. But, if he is in a limbo situation whereby he doesn’t want to be at the club but still finds himself there: can he really be relied upon? There is little doubting Ronaldo’s elite professionalism but the premise that such an influential individual doesn’t want a part of a project sucks the credibility from its heart before it’s even begun. Players look to Ronaldo when their backs are against the wall. If he’s not on the same page as them; what is the point? Would it really be within United’s – and Ten Hag’s – best interest to keep him at the club?

But then the question arises – where would he go? It doesn’t seem as though United would be willing to sell to Chelsea. Bayern Munich have publicly ruled themselves out of signing him, but this could be in effort to drop the Portuguese’s salary demands. Jorge Mendes offering him to clubs left right and centre probably isn’t the best strategy when a club such as Bayern could view it as a desperation and put the ball in their own court. Barcelona surely have too much history to be an option whereas Real Madrid have a balanced front line and, classically, little time for sentiment. Italian clubs can unlikely afford him, and the once-interested Manchester City have just signed Erling Håland in his position. How about a sensational Ronaldo – Messi union in Paris? However you look at it, there’s not an easy solution on Ronaldo’s end.

But Ronaldo and Jorge Mendes will surely find a solution. They did so when he left Juventus last summer. He does have enough power and sway to be able to make his own calls on his future; even if options do appear thin.

Undoubtedly, this is not the best timing to mount a sensational public transfer request – from the club’s perspective at least. It undermines Ten Hag’s project before it even gets started. Whatever happens, Ronaldo’s future cannot be allowed to dominate the agenda for Ten Hag’s first summer. He needs to move forward from with his new project with everyone in the squad behind him. Either Ronaldo changes his mind and definitively decides to stay, or United must sell him. It’s not worth keeping a wantaway Ronaldo at the club. A solution is needed quickly, or the wheels in Ten Hag’s project will be turning against him before he’s even started.

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