… but where?
Football writer Ian Whittell here examines the options for a player of Ronaldo’s age, status, and enormous appetite for M.
For the first time in his illustrious career, Ronaldo may have overplayed his hand when it comes to seeking out new employment.
From Sporting Lisbon to Old Trafford to Real Madrid and on to Juventus, Ronaldo has dictated and plotted his own career trajectory, ably assisted by self-styled “super agent” Jorge Mendes.
The summer of 2022 is proving a very different proposition, however. One by one, Ronaldo’s options of alternative employment appear to be disappearing; a situation exacerbated by the hard-line approach adopted by United and their new manager Erik ten Hag.
Ronaldo must go…
What an intriguing and increasingly acrimonious mess this appears to be. One of the best two players in the world over the last couple of decades, the side’s leading goal threat…. and yet you feel that the new manager would be better off without him.
Jamie Carragher, who is a Telegraph Sport columnist alongside his other roles, has a view here.
“Unacceptable” is putting it mildly about Ronaldo’s petulant behaviour. Ten Hag should go further and tell his board to facilitate Ronaldo’s departure on a free transfer for the greater good of Manchester United. This will not be a sign of weakness even if, ultimately, it is what Ronaldo wants.
By seizing the moment, Ten Hag can make it known it is he who wants Ronaldo out, sending a message to the rest of the team he will not tolerate such lack of discipline. Keeping Ronaldo will prolong the problem and what has become an unwanted soap opera.
The kick off today
is at 2pm. The team news will be out an hour or so before. It will be on Sky Sports Premier League and Sky Sports Main Event. Also kicking off at the same time is Leicester vs Brentford – and you can follow that one with the splendid Mr Uche Amako, who will be live blog detail.
Manchester United! Brighton! Live!
Good afternoon and welcome to our live blog of Manchester United against Brighton.
Here is Richard Tanner to set the scene:
The will-he-go, will-he-stay Cristiano Ronaldo affair may have dominated Manchester United’s summer but his former Real Madrid team-mate Raphael Varane is also facing some scrutiny.
Varane’s signing last summer – along with the arrivals Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho – was hailed as one of the last pieces in the title jig-saw for the club but it proved anything but as United slumped to their worst season in the Premier League era, in terms of points if not position.
Far from tightening up the defence, United ended up conceding as many goals as they scored – 57- their worst defensive record for over 30 years.
Varane’s performances on the pitch proved as inconsistent as his appearance record. The France international missed 20 games out of 49 in all competitions and, crucially, he was absent for nearly half of the 38 Premier League fixtures, starting only 20 and coming on as a sub in one.
Instead of creating a solid understanding with defensive partner Harry Maguire, United looked more vulnerable than ever with Maguire’s form suffering badly. Rather unfairly the United captain was singled out for the bulk of the criticism with Varane’s far from commanding displays seemingly escaping much of the flak, although he has admitted in pre-season that he, along with every player, needs a big improvement on last season.
Eric Ten Hag’s decision to buy Lisandro Martinez from his former club Ajax is considered to have put the pressure on Maguire given that the Argentina international plays on the left side of the centre back pair where Maguire has played for most of his career.
But Varane is also under pressure unless he can improve his injury record. Any successful team is built on a stable back line. Ten Hag has already indicated that Maguire will remain as his captain, he is naturally right footed and is far more reliable when it comes to injuries. The feeling is that Maguire will play when he has a knock and put his body on the line while Varane will err on the side of caution.
Ten Hag is well aware of Varane’s frequent injury absences and revealed he and his coaching staff put the 2018 World Cup winner on a special individual fitness programme in pre-season to ensure he was properly fit for the start of the season and will, hopefully, remain fit.
Asked how confident he was of getting the best out of Varane, Ten Hag sounded a positive note. “Very,” he said. “I’m 100 per cent convinced about that. We built him during the pre-season real carefully,with an individual programme and the last three weeks I think he has been on the pitch in every session and I’m really happy with that.
“You see him growing, his fitness levels and his performance levels, so I’m really happy with that. If Raphael is fit it is a huge strength for the squad and for the team.”
Ten Hag made it clear that one of the reasons he bought Martinez was because he likes left-footed players on the left of his defence – and right-footed players on the right. “Left-footed players are better orientated on the left side,” he said. “In possession you can create better angles but out of possession also the orientation is better, easier and more comfortable to go out, for instance, to cover the full-back”
The Dutchman is well aware that if new boy Martinez – who comes with a reputation as a fearless tough tackler as well as being good on the ball – can settle well then he then he has to choose between Maguire and Varane as his regular partner with Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly also pushing for game-time which may well come in the Europa League and domestic cup competitions.
But he made it clear he will be guided by performances rather than name, price and reputation. “I like this problem,” he said. “I think that is what we have been talking about – we need that competition in this squad.
“At the start of the season it [selection] is all open but apart from competition we are also going into a long season with a lot of games so we need a lot of players, quality players, to cover all the games. I can tell you in advance that no-one can play all the games”
Ten Hag has certainly got plenty of competition in defence. Apart from having five centre backs, Diogo Dalot and Aaron Wan-Bissaka will battle for the right back slot while new boy Tyrell Malacia will challenge Luke Shaw for on the left side. Whether it will help improve United’s defensive record remains to be seen.
Further forward he believes he can help Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho re-discover their best form after indifferent seasons and possibly their England places in time for the World Cup in Qatar.
“Once again, don’t look back, look forward,” he said. “I see the potential with many players in this squad and, yes, I am convinced I can develop the team. First develop the team then we will see individuals develop.”
He is pragmatic about the demand for United to not only to win matches but in also in style, warning that sometimes winning ‘ugly’ will be necessary,.
“They always want to play brilliant football,” he said. “That is why I’m here and I like it. You want to win and you want to win in a certain way so be proactive, brave, adventurous.
“I think that belongs to the culture of Manchester United and we want to bring it in. But at the end of the day if you cannot win in a good way, in an entertaining way, you still have to win. That is the mentality and attitude that we bring in.”
Ronaldo has only 45 minutes of pre-season football under his belt after a family issue prevented him from joining the squad on their pre-season tour which followed the news he wanted to leave Old Trafford to join a club who could offer him Champions League football. So far there have been no takers so it looks like he will have to eat humble pie.
He has had a full week’s training, Ten Hag says he has been happy with the work he has put in and may well start him against Brighton in the injury-enforced absence of the rejuvenated Anthony Martial.
“How do I feel about starting the season with Ronaldo? I’m really happy,” said Ten Hag. “I had told you before: we planned with him for the season. We have a top striker and I’m really happy he’s here, he’s in the squad and we stick to the plan. He’s worked really good.”