While Manchester United emphatically took all three points against Tottenham Hotspur during the midweek games, attention quickly turned to Cristiano Ronaldo’s antics and fallout.
After reportedly refusing to come on as a substitute, the Portuguese superstar decided to leave the bench early and head into the tunnel in what was blatant disrespect to his teammates and the club. Ronaldo also left Old Trafford quickly afterwards and did not join in the post-match celebrations.
Afterwards, Erik Ten Hag went to the media to downplay any ramifications and focus on the important result they had just recorded, but it was on everyone’s lips, selfishly taking away what was the team’s best performance in years.
A day later, Manchester United released a statement to say that Ronaldo would not be in Chelsea’s squad of the day at the weekend. Shortly afterwards it was reported that Ronaldo would also be withdrawn from first team training sessions and placed in the reserves.
There is no debate among Manchester United fans about the adoration they have for Ronaldo and how important he was last season in terms of his goal-scoring efforts, but it is accepted that the Red Devils are now better off without him.
When Ronaldo slips into the team, the game generally gets worse. Less pressure, less distance covered, less authority given to individuals just because of Ronaldo’s presence in the lineup. There is instead an overcompensation of trying to move the ball to the centre-forward to appease him.
Erik Ten Hag arrived this summer and stamped his authority on the team from the start. The Dutchman has developed his idea of a pressing system based on the fact that the sum of all the parts is greater than one.
Ronaldo, at his age and natural physical decline, clearly cannot operate up front with the kind of energy Ten Hag needs from his side. And with the hijinks in the summer about wanting to leave the club, there was no need for the manager to shoe Ronaldo into the side early on.
After the first two disastrous results, Ten Hag has seen an increase in his team’s performances and the results have followed. Manchester United look like a better team for it and are covering much more ground, over 100km per game, than earlier in the campaign.
Ten Hag has stated that Ronaldo is firmly in his plans for the rest of the season and will be called up for first team training, but he needed to make a statement that would carry weight with the whole team.
Privately, however, what happened this week only helped Ten Hag behind the scenes to be steadfast in his belief that Manchester United need a new centre-forward who is full of energy and age on his side.
Ronaldo provides a headache both on and off the pitch for Manchester United. It may be profitable from a commercial point of view, but if it is on the field, the team plays worse, and if it is on the bench and off it, there are great distractions and tantrums that prevent the progress of the club.
For all parties, a split in January works well as long as Manchester United can bring someone in for the rest of the campaign. The distractions cannot continue and Ronaldo is not getting his way given his limited performances this season.