Why Cristiano Ronaldo should leave Manchester United to Real Madrid

What you are about to read is pure speculation. It's an exercise in what can happen, an attempt to find logic in a game (football) that's short and with summer ceremonies (the transfer market) often even less so. With Cristiano Ronaldo's future facing few options, this could lead to an important return for one of the greatest players in the history of the game. Last year, Ronaldo's summer saw his agent Jorge Mendes go on a virtual roadshow of European clubs to see if there was a deal. He moved from Paris Saint-Germain to Manchester City and, finally, to Old Trafford before signing for Manchester United in the final hours of the transfer window. As preparations were made, it was useful for all concerned. His former club, Juventus, was dealing with a summer of budgetary and sporting uncertainty. United and then-manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer laid out a blueprint to play a certain way and worked on it all summer, only to rip it up when Ronaldo went off because, especially at this stage of his career, he's different than anyone else. Playing the game. Both clubs have endured frustrating seasons, and the uncertainty of the previous summer wasn't the only one far from it that certainly didn't help.

Man United now have a new manager, Erik ten Haag, and they are touring Australia to get to grips with his style of play.

while Ronaldo remains in Portugal, dealing with personal matters. Once again, it doesn't take a genius to realize we're in sub-optimal territory. Ten Haag was hired based on the football he played with Ajax. Stylistically, for United, it represents a 180-degree turn from what they played most of last season. Ten Haag himself said it will take some time to get where they want to be. On the surface, Ronaldo fits this approach, and so does Kylie Jenner in the UFC Octagon. With a ton of patience, preparation, and prayer, it might work, but of those 3 P's, you'll only really get the last one. Ten Haag has answered questions about this all summer -- usually with all the enthusiasm of a man going to a proctologist -- and said what you'd expect him to say: Ronaldo is a "great player" who can "contribute" to the "top" players, and he has " He is able". What else does he have to say? The reality is that, apart from brief and quickly abandoned trials under Maurizio Sarri and Andrea Pirlo at Juventus and interim boss Ralf Rangnick at United, Ronaldo hasn't played for a team that plays the way Ten Haag wants to play in years. Among Premier League forwards and wingers who played at least 1,800 minutes, Statsbomb data suggests Ronaldo ranked last or second last in every possible pressing or counter-pressing metric last season. In fact, that's where he's ranked every season since 2015-16, when that data set begins, including his time at Juventus and Real Madrid.

Let's be clear. Not because he is unfit or lazy; That's not what he's been asked to do for most of his career. Most coaches who have worked with Ronaldo have reckoned it's best to let him do his own thing (called "industrial-scale goals") and build the team. Can he reinvent himself at 37? Sure, stranger things have happened, but you wouldn't bet on it. Not in a World Cup year. Not without a full and uninterrupted preseason. Not in a team rebuilding from the ground up. That's why the drums have been beating all summer suggesting a move away from Manchester United, although there are two fundamental obstacles here. One is money. It's tight everywhere (almost) and when United failed to qualify for the Champions League last year, despite a 25% cut in wages and United allowing him to move on a free, his annual salary remains. At $25 million, that means he's out of reach for most. Still, with a little ammo, it can be overcome. The other is hard. Most top clubs have "system" managers, for lack of a better word. They're visionaries, and they stick to what got them there: they're not going to strip their set-up and switch to a system that gets the best out of Ronaldo. There are very few potential landing spots, and clubs that employ more pragmatic managers may, to some extent, have the means to afford him. PSG may be one, with Christophe Gaultier as new coach and Luis Campos as sporting director, but Kylian Mbappe is no match for Neymar and Lionel Messi. Ronaldo has been linked to Atletico Madrid, perhaps because of Mendes' relationship with the club, but they already have plenty of options (Alvaro Morata, Antoine Griezmann, Joao Felix, Mathews Cunha) in the striker department and anyway, marriage. Ronaldo and Diego "Cholo" Simeone seem like a stretch.

Ronaldo will get Champions League football, so an even bigger stage. 

Having spent a decade at the club, he was very open to joining them last summer. There is a genuine affection between him and coach Carlo Ancelotti, Ancelotti himself a pragmatist unattached to any system. It's not an ideal tactical fit, but if there's anyone who can make it work, it's Ancelotti. Of course, money is available between the club losing Mbappe last month and Gareth Bale leaving. Ronaldo's relationship with club president Florentino Perez has had its ups and downs over the years, but Florentino isn't one to hold grudges (just ask Ancelotti). Ronaldo might not be able to start every game, but with a World Cup coming up in November (and the fall after the World Cup), that would suit him. Karim Benzema may have to adjust his game a bit when Ronaldo comes in, but if last season is anything to go by, that certainly won't be a problem for him. (Also, he did Robin with his Batman for years when they were teammates. These days, Ronaldo is at his best with the hard-working central striker through midfield. Benzema's backups -- Mariano Diaz and Borja Mayor, the latter stay -- are nothing to write home about and can't do much of what Benzema does, but in a pinch they can provide grunt to allow Ronaldo to do. His thing. Vinicius may need to switch sides, but at his age that's not a big ask. It will take away from the minutes allocated for the trio of Rodrigo, Eden Hazard and Marco Asensio, but that's not a big deal and would have happened anyway had Mbappe signed. Also, Rodrigo is still only 22, Hazard's fitness is a perennial doubt, and Asensio, who has a year left on his contract (funny how these things work, Mendes also represents), could be on the move anyway. It's just a scene, something that looks fun to watch as a fan. If that happens, expect it to come at the end of the window. If United start well under ten Haag (or if they're terrible), Ronaldo takes a pay cut and agrees to a short-term deal.

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