Ralf Rangnick had actually been Manchester United manager for 2 days when he observed to a coworker that he could not play with Cristiano Ronaldo, however he certainly couldn't play without him-- and that is the predicament any manager of United will have.
There remained sometimes something slightly remarkable about Ronaldo last season. He was still efficient in narrative-shifting late goals. He still looked the exact same, a little slower possibly, however his body was evidence of a lifetime's commitment. Though much had actually been lost, much abided; it was still at times possible to believe that some honorable work could yet be done.
However the issue was those adventures, those glimmers of what he as soon as was, came against Atalanta, Norwich or Tottenham in one of their bad phases. It was enough, possibly, to persuade those who wished to think, however Ronaldo in his second United coming has actually been a lessened existence. There's no shame in that: he is 37, way beyond the age at which most forwards have actually decided the Premier League is no longer for them.
He did score 18 league goals last season, 8 more than any of his teammates. At a club that has become increasingly consumed by fond memories during a decade-long decrease, he is a sign of a more profitable time (and in his return, maybe, also a symbol of a less definitive, less successful era). He is a star. As United's marketing people may state, he raises brand awareness.
Therefore in that sense the news on Saturday that Ronaldo wants to leave came as blow. It made clear that his return, which cost a ₤ 20m charge and ₤ 500,000 a week in wages, has been a failure. It's simple to depict that as another example of United lurching into turmoil. However eliminating Ronaldo is likewise most likely the most essential step in restoring United. Erik ten Hag has stated that he was eager to work with Ronaldo however we can securely assume he was being diplomatic. If Ronaldo does leave, freeing up the budget and making it simpler to impose the new manager's viewpoint, it will definitely come as a relief.
Ten Hag is a timeless Ajax coach; he plays hard-pressing football. Excluding centre-backs, Ronaldo attempted less pressures than any other outfield player in Europe's top five leagues last season. Those two details do not-- can not-- go together. There is a basic detach that can not be reconciled. No coach who wants to play contemporary football can accommodate Ronaldo. Maybe a more reactive manager like Diego Simeone or a star-whisperer like Carlos Ancelotti could get something out of him (although you suspect Simeone's demand for self-sacrifice would quickly produce problems) but no pressing coach could.
But it's not simply a matter of style. Ronaldo is so big he dwarfs any club he plays for. Even Manchester United ended up being FC Ronaldo. Everything is sublimated to him. There are numerous stories of him last season interfering with drills on shape because he discovered them dull, insisting practice should be fun. He clashed with Harry Maguire over the captaincy. When Rangnick left him out for the Manchester derby, he returned to Portugal for treatment on his hip flexor and so, even in his absence, the story became about Ronaldo.
Any club for which he plays establishes an unhealthy dependency. He is a fantastic goalscorer, so you play to his strengths so he can score goals. The problem is that ends up undermining the basic pattern of play, makes it harder to develop the structures that offer a team control, and the side becomes foreseeable. Ronaldo's goalscoring interventions protected United from an even worse campaign last season, however if he hadn't existed they might not require them.
Two apparent problems remain. The first is that it's not obvious who will sign Ronaldo now. With the possible exception of Paris Saint-Germain-- who appear strangely enthused by the possibility of producing a waxwork gallery of players who were good in La Liga 7 years earlier-- no European club who could afford him plays the sort of football that suits Ronaldo. Even his old club Real Madrid, never ever typically shy of a 30-something star, might believe in the light of Karim Benzema's form that they have carried on.
And the second is who changes him. United, for a variety of reasons, lack credible forwards. 10 Hag is thought to favour a move for Ajax's 22-year-old Brazilian winger Antony. While in isolation he might show to be a very good signing, there should be some alarm about how many Eredivisie players Ten Hag appears to wish to collect. Generating a load of blokes your manager knows smacks of David Moyes at Sunderland, not a state-of-the-art scouting network.
However issues were constantly going to turn up when the time came for Ronaldo to leave. Awkward as they might be, they become part of the solution. The positive for Ten Hag is that this move has actually originated from Ronaldo; it is not a choice for which the coach will be called to account. What matters now is for the break to come as quickly and as easily as possible, so he can start to build the new age without the issue of an aging and anachronistic icon.