It’s a testament to how relentless football scheduling has been since the World Cup that it feels like a very long time ago since Cristiano Ronaldo’s acrimonious split with Manchester United. But the agreement to terminate the contract came on 23rd November, meaning it’s just over three months since the Portuguese legend left the club. Even though it’s been a matter of weeks, it seems like the dust has settled, with both the player and former employer moving on.
Might we argue that it can now be considered a happy divorce for both parties? While some questions linger over whether Ronaldo has tarnished his legacy in the eyes of United fans, it’s probable that time will heal those wounds. Memory can be selective, and, particularly if United ends up successful this season, fans might choose to forget the stuttering start to the campaign when Ronaldo’s attitude, and not the football, was dominating the headlines around the club.
United has joined the title race
Premier League title betting odds behind Manchester City and Arsenal, the fact they have inserted themselves into the race is remarkable, given the disastrous start to the season. In short, United look like a team reborn, and that uptick in form has coincided with Ronaldo’s departure.
The question is whether that is a coincidence or not. Ronaldo’s detractors had claimed for a long time that United played better when the Portuguese ace was not in the line-up. Given Ronaldo’s age, they argued that United’s fast-paced counter-attacking style was not suited to his current skillset. Indeed, United’s main creative threat and Ronaldo’s compatriot, Bruno Fernandes, seems to be the biggest beneficiary of Ronaldo’s exit. Fernandes plays “on the edge” always looking for the quick pass to split the opposition’s defense for a counter-attack. It suits fast players like Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Anthony Martial. It did not suit 37-year-old Ronaldo. It’s not just United, either, as the same arguments are made for the Portugal national team.
Exit should not tarnish Ronaldo’s legacy
But here’s the rub: Ronaldo is a great player and not fitting into the United team are not mutually exclusive concepts. We saw in the 2021/22 season that he was still able to deliver goals aplenty in the self-styled toughest league in world football. He also bailed United out with his clutch goal-scoring. All in all, he scored 27 goals in 54 games during his second spell at Manchester United. But the charge still remained the same – United played better without him, despite his goals.
All of this, of course, deals with hypotheticals. Perhaps United and Ronaldo could have gone on a trophy charge together had the Portuguese stayed with the club. But it is becoming clearer that the divorce is working for both parties. Ronaldo will get to continue being the main man in Saudi Arabia, scoring goals for fun, and United can continue rebuilding a team that seemed to be beholden to past glories for too long.
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