Cristiano Ronaldo flirted with a move to Manchester City

More saviour than slacker: Cristiano Ronaldo flirted with a move to Manchester City and despite mixed reviews, he has done more good than harm at Old Trafford

  • Cristiano Ronaldo was close to joining rivals Manchester City in the summer
  • He instead chose to return to United and will line up against City on Saturday
  • Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has called the Portuguese one of the best players ever  

More than two months have passed since the seismic 48 hours that saw Cristiano Ronaldo flirt with Manchester City before returning home to the welcoming arms of Manchester United.

Could it really have happened? Ronaldo in blue, returning to Old Trafford for the 186th Manchester derby as a City player?

We’ll probably never know. But super-agent Jorge Mendes certainly earned his commission that week, proposing the unthinkable before delivering the incredible.

Cristiano Ronaldo considered a move to City before returning to Manchester United 

There have been plenty of ups and downs since then, in-keeping with life at modern-day Manchester United, and Ronaldo has been front and centre for most of it. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

Perhaps the most peculiar aspect of Ronaldo’s return is a perception in some quarters that it has had a negative impact on the club. 

That seems very harsh considering the 36-year-old has done what it says on the tin and scored nine goals in 11 games. Without him, it’s quite possible United would already be out of the Champions League and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would be out of a job.

Football has changed though and so has the Premier League. Goals, it seems, are no longer enough to justify a striker’s existence.

Ronaldo has to press, to run, to defend from the front; a pre- requisite for any forward in Pep Guardiola’s team which makes City’s interest in signing him all the stranger even though they were — and still are — short of a centre forward.

So what is he, then: a saviour or a slacker? Solskjaer delivered an emphatic response when the issue was put to him on Friday.

Ronaldo’s injury time goal against Atalanta saved Manchester United from another defeat 

‘He’s one of the best players that’s ever walked on this planet,’ said the United manager. ‘His impact on and off the pitch has been absolutely immense, the way he conducts himself. How people can say it’s a negative, I can’t see that. He scores goals, works for his team and is a top professional.’

Signing Ronaldo hasn’t been without its problems. The £19.6million move from Juventus came out of the blue at a time when Solskjaer thought his squad was complete, and that has impacted other players.

Edinson Cavani lost his place and his No 7 shirt before striking up a promising partnership with Ronaldo at Tottenham last weekend. Paul Pogba, suspended for the derby, lost his position on the left side of midfield as part of the reshuffle that followed United hijacking City to sign the five-time Ballon d’Or winner. Bruno Fernandes lost his nerve from the penalty spot.

But to point the finger at Ronaldo when there are so many glaring deficiencies in this United team feels wrong.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer likened Ronaldo to NBA legend Michael Jordan (pictured) this week 

The club paid £73m for Jadon Sancho and have had next to nothing back for it. United should have strengthened in central midfield but failed to do so. And they have been let down by senior players like Harry Maguire and Pogba so far this season.

Ronaldo is the least of their worries. Despite the occasional tantrum, he’s been worth the effort.

Teams adapt for great players and United have changed to accommodate Ronaldo. Since the Liverpool debacle two weeks ago, Solskjaer has switched from his favoured 4-2-3-1 to a 3-4-1-2. It means United rely less on pressing and more on the counter-attacking game that has proved effective against City in the past.

After Ronaldo’s latest rescue act at Atalanta in midweek, Solskjaer likened him to Michael Jordan.

It was an interesting comparison and even more so when Scottie Pippen came out the following day and criticised his ‘condescending’ former Chicago Bulls team-mate over his role in The Last Dance documentary.

Solskjaer labelled Ronaldo ‘one of the best players that’s ever walked on this planet’ on Friday 

You were reminded of the comments made about Ronaldo by Leonardo Bonucci last month when he claimed that Juventus are playing more like a team without the former Real Madrid star.

Ronaldo, like Jordan, won’t care. The top sportsmen don’t. The numbers speak for themselves, and they continue to do what they have always done. Some team-mates appreciate it, others don’t.

In a stellar career, Ronaldo’s record in the Manchester derby could actually do with a little improvement. In 11 games during his first spell at United, he scored four goals and picked up two red cards — both at the Etihad.

So what would it have been like for United to line up against him today?

‘The good thing is that would never happen and there is no chance of that happening,’ said Solskjaer. ‘I am happy he is wearing red, and hopefully he can be the difference again.’

Guardiola seemed even more reluctant to discuss what might have been. ‘Normally I don’t talk about players for other clubs,’ said the City manager yesterday.

‘I’m pretty sure Cristiano Ronaldo is happy at Manchester United and United are happy to have him. That is all.’

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