Ten Hag’s first task is to solve United’s biggest mistake: bringing Ronaldo back

Ten Hag’s first task is to solve United’s biggest mistake: bringing Ronaldo back

Ten Hag’s first task is to solve United’s biggest mistake: bringing Ronaldo back

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It would not be entirely true to say that everything was rosy at Manchester United a year ago, but the previous season he had finished second in the Premier League and had added Jadon Sancho and Raphäel Varane to the squad. Doubts over Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s management meant that a serious title challenge still seemed unlikely, but no one really expected them to drop to sixth place, 16 points less than the previous season.

The campaign got off to a good start, with Leeds 5-1 scrapping and then four points from certainly less than inspiring performances away to Southampton and Wolves. This seemed like the familiar pattern: Solskjær’s United excelled against teams that approached and left room to take advantage of the pace of their attacking line, but found it more difficult against teams that sat deep.

Related: There will be no immediate Ten Hag revolution at United. It’s a journey | Karen Carney

And then, in the last week of the transfer market, came the strangest of distractions: the news that Cristiano Ronaldo, his relationship with Juventus fractured, was on the verge of joining Manchester City. At that point, United’s car jumped into action – Sir Alex Ferguson, Rio Ferdinand, Bruno Fernandes, the generations that came together over a terrible mistake – to make sure he signed for United instead. If City had devised an operation to destabilize a club that was just beginning to look like it could plausibly re-emerge as a rival, they could hardly have done it better.

United played poorly for much of their first game against a dismal Newcastle, but Ronaldo scored two goals in a 4-1 win and that was enough. The adults were crying: the prodigal son had returned. And so Solskjær’s nostalgia project was derailed by an even more intense nostalgia. The game of past glories has overshadowed the chaos of the present. Solskjær’s kick was all about sitting deep and hitting on the break, but Ronaldo meant there was no rhythm on the attacking line. The game plan has disintegrated. United have only won four of their next 13 games and Solskjær has been sacked.

It’s impossible, of course, to know how the players’ form and confidence would have been different if it hadn’t been for Ronaldo, although it’s safe to say that he wasn’t exceptional for the harmony in the locker room. It is true that he has scored – 18 in the Premier League, eight more than anyone else in the squad – but United overall have scored 16 fewer than in the previous season. While those goals often got United out of tough situations, it’s also true that many of those situations were accomplished by Ronaldo.

Would Solskjær still be in office if Ronaldo hadn’t joined? Given that United could have built on what had happened before, they could have qualified for the Champions League this season, that’s certainly possible. But instead Ronaldo remains – for now – the totem pole of a club which, having lost faith in its ability to plan the future, only knows how to look back.

The tone changes. The ideas the team is trying to implement change. But the fundamental problems remain

The face in front of the sponsor board changes. The tone changes. The ideas the team is trying to implement change. But the fundamental problems remain. Manchester United remain under the Glazers, and that means what the manager does has limited meaning beyond the big mess of the club’s superstructure, with its multiple consultants, consultants and brains, all feeding a board that misses important decisions. on and on and on.

Of all these mistakes, bringing Ronaldo back with £ 26.8 million a year may be the most egregious. He undermined Solskjær. Ralf Rangnick, oddly appointed as coach after a decade as sporting director, would never have been able to handle it. And so now Erik ten Hag has to manage the relapses.

“Sunday, the king plays,” Ronaldo posted on Instagram before last weekend’s friendly against Rayo Vallecano. But it only lasted 45 minutes and then disappeared long before the final whistle, something Ten Hag described as “unacceptable”. And that’s part of Ronaldo’s problem: his will to achieve perfection rarely has room for minor considerations, like his coach, his teammates or his club.

He wants to get out and is determined to force the exit, but Ronaldo is now 37 and the clubs that can afford him seem not to want him. It’s not quite Madame Tussauds melting George Best’s waxwork and turning him into Rodney Marsh, but she has to make Ronaldo ponder that he’s no longer what he once was. And so, off the pitch as well as on, his lack of movement is creating problems for the Manchester United manager.

Ronaldo, it goes without saying, doesn’t fit into Ten Hag’s style of play. A fresh start will be incredibly difficult if he lingers. But likewise, should he go, United’s options as center-forward are Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, the former who only started 13 league games last season and the latter was loaned out after just two.

Ten Hag’s start was promising. He imposed discipline. Every preseason the squad is said to be in better shape than ever, but this time around it looks like that may be at least partially true. The ban on personal chefs seems largely symbolic, but it reorients players’ lives on the club.

But the advice still hasn’t given him Frenkie de Jong despite such a long chase that even Dick Dastardly and Muttley may have given up by now. He has not yet delivered a right back. The signing talks of Slovenian striker Benjamin Sesko from Red Bull Salzburg, meanwhile, have been described as “complicated”, although this could be another way of saying United are embarrassed that they potentially have to shell out £ 50. million for a nineteen year old. he could have signed three years ago for £ 2.5 million.

A year ago, the council handed over Ronaldo, whose stardom mass is such that even a club as big as United ends up being drawn to his gravity field. Ten Hag’s job, trying to reshape an unbalanced team put together through years of pursuing completely different strategies, trying to re-inspire disillusioned players as they confront a new training environment, would still be difficult enough.

But now he has to deal with the biggest mistake of the United management and find a way, while remaining diplomatic, to get Ronaldo out of the club to everyone’s satisfaction, to resolve a crisis that is all the work of the management.

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