Ronaldo at Manchester United is a tactical problem, not a disaster. And there is another side to the transfer
Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Manchester United can be assessed in different ways . For example, from a tactical point of view, it is a controversial idea to sign such a status player at the very end of the transfer window to an already completed team. How does Ronaldo fit in with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s ideas ? But from an emotional point of view, everything is fine: returning to the club, with which there was a victory in the Champions League, evokes nostalgia and sympathy.
To defend only one point of view at the expense of another is not entirely true. Yes, usually transfers are not made for sentimental reasons (at least, good ones). Clubs select players based on the balance of football needs and financial capabilities. Yes, Manchester United had already been staffed by the end of August, and if not, then it’s more about a defensive player than another striker. But sometimes, very rarely, the situation is broader than a strictly tactical framework, and emotional arguments have a right to life.
There are not many footballers in the world who go beyond the familiar team-player equation. In the last 10 years, there were only two of them. And it so happened that both changed the team at the same time. It turned out differently.
Messi also came at the end of the window and ruined the plans and developments of the coach. The strategic development plan – if there was one in Paris at all – can be thrown away. But this is only one side of the transition. And here’s another: Messi wanted to stay at Barcelona. Leaving is not his decision. Moreover, in the end he ended up in a club with which Barcelona have had a kind of personal feud for several years. If you look at the situation even a little deeper than the first layer of hype and “wow, Messi on the Eiffel Tower,” you can see the drama. Yes, it also evokes emotions, but not at all like Ronaldo’s return to Manchester.
There are no heroes in Messi’s transition, no nostalgia, and even the new challenge is rather dubious. To play in Ligue 1 on a team that stands as the other 19 is well, not a challenge. And in the Champions League, PSG have played in the final and semi-final for the last two seasons, so, in fact, everything is done for the sake of shirts, autographs and a couple of decisive matches at the end of April. This is a story of compromise; it is not inspiring. And the tactical unreasonableness of the transfer (taking the top ten of the last 10 years to the team where the second ten has played for the last 10 years, well, what the hell is stupidity) is only a bonus, albeit a significant one. Well, he is also negative.
Agree, on an emotional level, Ronaldo’s transition looks different. Insiders write that in the morning before signing, Alex Ferguson called him . And Ronaldo himself wrote in a welcome post not only about the Champions League won and the Golden Ball, which was expected, but also the words: “Sir Alex, this is for you.” Now, if he moved to City … But he didn’t, and that’s a big difference. And he ended up in not the strongest club of the strongest league – it looks more like a new challenge.
One can also speak in different ways about the harm that Cristiano will inflict on the team by destroying tactics. Yes, he does not work out without the ball. And with the ball, he breaks the structure of possession, because he regularly pulls himself into the midfielders: it interferes with the rally and deprives the attack of depth / width. This is all true. But not all.
At least through Ronaldo you don’t have to play the whole ball game. The same Messi spent half an hour in his debut game against Reims, but touched the ball 20 times – the second result in this segment, even higher than PSG’s central defenders. Just an hour before his release, the Parisians struck 11 shots on goal, and half an hour after – one. The case when one phrase is enough to describe the player’s influence on the team – in a bad way. Messi provides the coach with unique tools for playing the game, but also presents him with unique challenges. It’s still easier with Ronaldo: he just does not work out without the ball and returns to the center of the field.
By the way, it is not a fact that he will return to Manchester United as often as in Juventus, or that his movement will be as damaging. Maurizio Sarri is one of the most dogmatic coaches in the world, his positional play is built on the learned movements of players relative to each other to create options for diagonal passes. Andrea Pirlo may not have turned out to be a child prodigy, but he was definitely a coach with ideas for promoting the ball and a rigid positional structure, within which any player could be anywhere – not where he wanted to be, but where the situation required. It is not Ronaldo’s fault that Juventus management invited these two coaches when he was on the team.
Solskjaer’s positional play is simpler than that of Pirlo, not to mention Sarri. Despite the fact that players finally stopped systematically taking zones away from each other over the course of last season, attacks still largely boil down to the idea of ”let’s give the ball to Brun and see what he does with it.” And if Bruno is closed, then plan B is to promote it through Luke Shaw , who became an alternative playmaker.
Of course, establishing mutual understanding will take some time, but still with Pogba and Bruno Ronaldo will be much closer to a convenient situation for himself (Modric and Kroos in Real Madrid) than with McKenny and Rabiot. Perhaps endless unnecessary trips to the center circle area will end. Or at least there will be fewer of them.
Solskjaer, commenting on the transition, said not only the usual compliments, but also something important from a practical point of view. That from his point of view, Ronaldo is a center forward, and that he wants to see him in the box. This makes the analysis very easy.
If Ronaldo takes the place of Rashford on the field, remaining high on the left edge of the attack, it means that something went wrong, as the coach intended. If Ronaldo wanders chaotically near Pogba and Bruno, and there is no player in front to pass, then Solskjaer had to reconsider his views. Then it will be possible to say that the main star threatens the team, and the harm from it outweighs the benefit.
But if Ronaldo is consistently in the penalty area at least in the final phase of the attack, if he makes 25-27 passes per match (as in recent years in Real Madrid), and not 35-37 (as in Juventus), so Solskjaer knows what he is talking about. The coach who called the player at the negotiation stage made a bold hint of the transfer, when nothing had been decided yet, and now says that all parties wanted the transfer, is hardly too upset, is he?
Life is wider than our ideas about it, so it cannot be completely ruled out that Ronaldo’s return will be a failure. But there are reasons to expect that it will be tactically easier for Solskjaer with him than Pirlo or Sarri. Or what will Pochettino and Messi be.
In fact, the return of Cristiano really poses a serious problem for Manchester United. Solskjaer now has too many attacking players. This is a problem because he clearly planned the rotation, but Ronaldo is not the kind of footballer who will play from time to time, but the one who just takes away one spot on the field. Now everyone else will qualify for one less position.
You can imagine the current formation 4-2-3-1 with Cristiano on the edge, Rashford on the left and Sancho on the right, but then Cavani remains only a backup for the Portuguese (and Martial is generally the third choice for a position with zero chances to play). You can imagine Cavani and Ronaldo in a bunch, but this will hit the flank game too much (Sancho?), And the same Rashford is still not a reserve player. He, Sancho, Cavani – these are three obvious contenders for the basis, except for two obvious ones, Cristiano and Bruno. Someone is superfluous.
The option with the transition to 4-3-3 with Bruno and Pogba in the role of eights and with three strikers at once looks not only self-destructively open, but also unproductive, since the best positions of several players are lost at once. If, in the end, Solskjaer goes to him (and does not get the result), this will mean that the coach sacrificed the balance in order to accommodate all the stars. But so far this is only the most negative scenario, not the most likely one. By the way, there hasn’t been a person in the team for a long time who is so focused on success. This is also an important factor.