OLIVER HOLT: Ageing icon Cristiano Ronaldo can’t hide the cracks in Solskjaer’s United… his arrival was meant to mark the end of Old Trafford mediocrity but the Young Boys loss was a reality check
- Despite his talent Cristiano Ronaldo can’t hide Manchester United’s weaknesses
- Given his age it is inevitable that Ronaldo’s minutes will have to be managed
- Ronaldo will never be blamed so Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be deemed at fault
- Meanwhile, the BBC’s SPOTY obsession has become boring and tiresome
- Boxing is turning into a low-rent circus following Evander Holyfield shambles
It took just 14 days from the moment Manchester United completed the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo for some of their fans to demand Ole Gunnar Solskjaer be fired.
Calls for Solskjaer to be fired happen every time United lose a match because that is the way the game is now, but this time there was greater vehemence about them. They were imbued with added urgency.
Many had predicted that Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford would ramp up the pressure on Solskjaer and here, after the Portuguese superstar’s second game, was the proof.
For all of his qualities Cristiano Ronaldo can’t hide the weaknesses Manchester United have
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer received much criticism for taking off Ronaldo against Young Boys
There was a burst of speculation that Antonio Conte, the former Chelsea and Inter Milan manager, was being lined up to take over. Reports said that Conte was open to the idea.
United had just lost 2-1 to Young Boys in Bern in the first tie of their Champions League campaign and among the things for which Solskjaer was heavily criticised was his decision to substitute Ronaldo, who had put United ahead early in the game. It was a crass error to take him off after 70 minutes when the scores were level at 1-1, people said; another sign that Solskjaer simply isn’t up to the job. It was, some said, one of the worst substitutions in the club’s history.
That argument was an interesting illustration of the collision between fantasy and reality in the signing of a ‘global icon’. The substitution was a shock to those who seemed to think they had signed a cartoon character impervious to age.
Image is everything now but Ronaldo is not just a collection of pixels on a computer game. He is not just a list of statistics. He is not just another ‘like’ on Instagram. He is not preserved in eternal youth.
Given Ronaldo’s age, it is inevitable that his minutes will have to be managed very carefully
Ronaldo’s status means he will never be at fault, so the blame will be laid at Solskjaer’s door
What did everyone expect? Did they think a player who will be 37 later this season was going to play every minute of every game? Did they not think that his game-time would have to be carefully managed? Did they not realise that, particularly when United are playing against minnows such as Young Boys, even when they had been reduced to 10 men, other players might have to be trusted to get the job done?
The problem is, Ronaldo was supposed to stop nights like this. His arrival was supposed to take away all the pain of the last eight years since Sir Alex Ferguson retired and the club’s success retired with him. His arrival was supposed to mark an end to mediocrity and under-achievement; an end to nights like the one that unfolded on Tuesday. United, with Ronaldo, were not supposed to be vulnerable to teams like Young Boys any more.
And so the defeat, even taking into account the dismissal of Aaron Wan-Bissaka 10 minutes before half-time, was a reality check. After the euphoria of Ronaldo’s two-goal debut against a struggling Newcastle team last Saturday, this was a reminder that United have strengthened their team in an area that didn’t need strengthening and neglected areas of weakness that remain.
Ronaldo is the icing on the cake and United are already threatening to become a one-man team
Ronaldo’s a luxury buy. He’s the icing on a cake that hasn’t been baked yet. And if there is a legitimate argument to suggest that his presence and his work ethic and his record in the game will be an inspiration to the fine young players around him at Old Trafford, there are already worrying signs that United are being recast as a one-man team.
Ronaldo is substituted, therefore United lose. Really? That kind of reasoning suggests Solskjaer’s side are still at such a fragile stage of their development that they fall apart when their newest superstar is withdrawn. It suggests that the psyche of the team is still not what it should be if they have genuine aspirations of challenging for the Premier League and the Champions League this season.
Ronaldo is a powerful symbol of past glories at United. That, more than anything, is why there has been so much fervour surrounding his return. And already, there appears to be a psychological dependence on him. His signing was supposed to have brought the days of triumph back within touching distance but without him, even for 20 minutes, the spell was broken.
The stakes have been raised for Solskjaer, with defeats being seen as a betrayal of Ronaldo
Part of the problem for Solskjaer is that players such as Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who made an unremarkable Champions League debut for PSG last week, have such huge and devoted and unquestioning social media followings that an air of infallibility has grown up around them. To mention, say, Kathryn Mayorga’s accusations that she was sexually assaulted by Ronaldo — allegations that are denied by him — is regarded by his tribe as a crime in itself. To question him, even in milder ways, invites opprobrium.
So when United lose, it will never be Ronaldo’s fault. And it will never be accepted that maybe United should have paid more attention to improving their defensive midfield situation before they brought back one of their favourite sons to appease both their fan base and a coterie of vociferous former players who petitioned United to keep him out of the clutches of Manchester City.
Instead, as happened in Switzerland, the blame for anything other than a resounding victory will be laid at Solskjaer’s door. Ronaldo is a god to United fans; a man who can do no wrong, on or off the field. Fans want to believe that the carefully-gilded image of him is true so desperately it hurts.
When things go bad, as they did on Tuesday night, it can only be because Ronaldo has been betrayed or let down in some way. Then somebody else has to pay. And if the league title or winning the Champions League does not materialise, then because the expectations were so high, the backlash will be savage indeed.
Raducanu SPOTY discussion is tiresome
The obsession with presenting the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award as a stamp of greatness became boring a long time ago but it reached new levels of strangeness in the wake of Emma Raducanu winning the US Open last Saturday.
Emma Raducanu’s US Open win was stunning but shouldn’t be a passport to winning SPOTY
Raducanu’s victory was one of the most stunning triumphs in the history of British sport but barely had her final ace hurtled past Leylah Fernandez than her win was being cast merely as a passport to winning SPOTY.
SPOTY is actually a symbol of many of the BBC’s shortcomings. It would have been nice if the corporation had actually broadcast some of the live tennis from Flushing Meadows rather than jumping on it as an excuse to plug a self-regarding, smug, BBC beauty pageant.
Boxing turning into circus after Holyfield shambles
Evander Holyfield’s sad and stumbling destruction at the hands of Vitor Belfort was such a pathetic spectacle that there must be some hope that watching a 58-year-old get beaten will dull the public appetite for the freak shows that have sprung up on the periphery of boxing.
The sport is full of brilliant fighters and great fights, not least the prospect of the enthralling match-up between Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk in London next Saturday, but bouts like Holyfield’s are turning it into a low-rent circus.
Evander Holyfield’s defeat will hopefully dull the public appetite for boxing’s freak shows
Guardiola wrong over supporter row
Pep Guardiola is probably the best coach in football but he made a mistake when he issued a veiled criticism of Manchester City’s fans for not turning up in greater numbers for last Wednesday’s Champions League tie against RB Leipzig.
Guardiola knows City’s history, so he knows that they have one of the most loyal fanbases in English football.
But by saying what he said, he presented opposition supporters with a great big stick to beat City fans with. It will be wielded with glee for years to come.
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