Manchester United fought back from two goals down against Atalanta last week to go top of Champions League Group F, the winning goal courtesy of a brilliant Cristiano Ronaldo header. While tensions are currently high surrounding the club after a damning league defeat against Liverpool, the Champions League has offered solace in the last two matchdays.
In the wake of the crucial victory, Ronaldo sat down with Geoff Shreeves of Sky Sports for an interview where he boldly stated he would ‘close mouths and win things’ for United. Ronaldo was speaking in reference to a question put forward regarding some of the recent criticism the Portuguese has received, mostly regarding his work rate and pressing.
However, any doubts surrounding whether Ronaldo still has the same motivation or desire to win as he did earlier in his career were swiftly put to bed in a very direct conversation with Shreeves. Ronaldo said of his motivation; ‘it doesn’t matter how many things I won in my career. I win everything but I’m still motivated.’
Supporters of United will be pleased to hear that despite his unrivalled success, Ronaldo is still desperate to win again and more importantly- win with United. This burning desire has been showcased through Ronaldo’s actions a few times since his return to United. One such example was Ronaldo’s passionate celebration after scoring a last-minute winner against Villarreal in the Champions League.
United were in desperate need for the three points and right on cue the ball dropped to Ronaldo who smashed it home in the 94th minute. Naturally Old Trafford erupted, and a jubilant Ronaldo ripped off his shirt and wheeled away towards the United supporters.
It’s easy to forget that this is a 36-year-old, the Champions Leagues greatest ever player, Ronaldo has won the competition four times and is the top goal scorer in it. He could have easily called it a day at his age and lost his passion for game, yet the five-time Ballon d’Or winner just seems to want more. Ronaldo claimed he is ‘not here for a holiday, he is here to work’, and will know full well one more Champions League title will put him level with Paco Gento, a Real Madrid legend with a record six Champions League titles.
With all of this being said, it would be forgivable to expect United to miraculously cruise back to glory, after all, Ronaldo does make miracles happen on the pitch. However, the reality is a lot more grounded, something Ronaldo recognised in the interview noting; ‘United are in a period of transition, buying me, Varane and Sancho’.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s new signings will need time to adapt to the club, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane not yet fully acclimatised just yet it would seem. Ronaldo is a breed of his own though, having scored a brace on his debut and racking up six goals already at the time of writing.
When pressed about why he hasn’t retired from the national team yet, Ronaldo simply met the question with a puzzled; ‘why?’. The Portuguese cited his ability to still dribble and shoot, still affect games on a consistent basis at all levels, even suggesting he can reach an even higher level still. Whether this was just the talk of an extremely confident winner or genuine desire, it’s at least obvious that Ronaldo maintains his status as a gamechanger.
While Ronaldo’s role has evolved since his dazzling feet first lit up the Old Trafford turf 18 years ago, his ability to score goals is the same if not better. Playing as a striker, Ronaldo is probably the deadliest player on the planet in the box, with both his feet and his head. The headed winner against Atalanta is perhaps indicative of one of the reasons why Ronaldo may be considered the greatest ever ahead of Messi, that being Ronaldo seems to always pull-out big goals when needed most.
Despite all of the positives Ronaldo has brought with him, there is still a side to the Portuguese that can sometimes come across as abrasive and immature. Shreeves brought up Ronaldo’s furious march to the tunnel after drawing against Everton at home, to which Ronaldo reiterated his desire to win, which sometimes causes him to react angrily when the team doesn’t do this.
At the weekend we saw an example of this again, a furious Ronaldo kicked out just before half time, somehow avoiding a red card. While this side of Ronaldo is intrinsically linked to the nature of being a winner, Ronaldo will have to tread the line between frustration and disrespect carefully.
It’s clear the club is in a turbulent place after the 5-0 loss against Liverpool at Old Trafford, Ronaldo was even picked up mocking Solskjaer’s hand gestures, but the harmony between players and staff has to remain if United are to succeed. There is no doubt Ronaldo still maintains faith and immense confidence in his own ability, his influence bigger than ever before, however, this confidence and influence could ultimately have more power than it should, and Ronaldo needs to use it in the right way if United are to win again.
Written by Sam Wilson