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Opinion: Cristiano Ronaldo’s return must spark title challenge

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After a chaotic transfer window finally comes to an end, Manchester United find themselves with four new players, one perhaps more familiar than the others. Cristiano Ronaldo made a sensational return towards the end of the window, signing from Italian giants Juventus for a reported initial fee of £12.86 million although the legendary forward was initially thought to be heading to Manchester City. 

Fortunately for the red side of Manchester, transfer proceedings took a dramatic turn when it was revealed that United had decided to enter the race for Ronaldo’s signature. This then set in motion a dream return for both Ronaldo and United fans, who have always passionately supported the 36-year-old since his departure back in 2009. 

Naturally, this signing has rekindled a wave of nostalgia amongst everyone connected to the club, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has signed Ronaldo to be a difference maker rather than just a nostalgia trip.

The Ronaldo that left United in 2009 was vastly different to the player that has returned today. Aside from being a more mature, refined football player, Ronaldo’s natural position has altered massively throughout the course of his career. Everybody knows Ronaldo was signed from Sporting Lisbon back in 2003, after bedazzling Sir Alex Ferguson’s side in a friendly.

Ronaldo played as a raw and untamed winger during the first few years for United, sometimes frustrating his manager but always showing his quality and potential. Gradually Ronaldo shifted his role slightly to one more of a wide forward rather than an out and out winger, a shift that elevated his game massively. 

This shift largely happened during the final years at United, meaning at Real Madrid he became even more of a goal scoring machine, scoring 450 goals in 438 games. It was during his final years in Madrid that Ronaldo was deployed as a striker, the embodiment of the complete package. 

When he finally did depart Los Blanco’s for Juventus, Ronaldo was an experienced predatory striker, and despite a loss in pace he was more lethal than ever, particularly in his incredible aerial ability. Ronaldo managed to bag 36 goals in 44 appearances in what would be his final season with Juventus, an incredible record for a player over 35 years of age.

With this being said, United will feel like they have landed a huge asset in the push towards being the Premier League champions once more. Ronaldo will almost definitely play as a striker for Solskjaer, slotting into United’s preferred 4-2-3-1 setup. An emphasis on quality crossing will be applied to the United fullbacks, knowing full well Ronaldo is ruthless in the box when good deliveries are provided to him. 

It was initially thought that United would rely on the services of veteran striker Edinson Cavani and young talent Mason Greenwood in the striker role this season, however, Ronaldo’s arrival means that it’s likely Greenwood will play more games from the flanks rather than through the middle. The addition of Ronaldo also means that United won’t have to rely on Cavani as much, the Uruguayan unable to play every game due to his age, with both strikers at the club United will have all important quality squad depth. 

Conversely, it is possible that Ronaldo plays off the left as he did once before, although I think this option is unlikely considering his attributes are best suited to that of a striker now, while United already possess several talented wide players in the form of Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford to name a few.

Another huge facet of Ronaldo’s arrival is that he doesn’t just bring guaranteed goals, he brings a renewed sense of spirit and heralds a new age of ambition from the club. The fact that the signing was portrayed as a one-up on rivals Manchester City also adds to the excitement, the noisy neighbours have grown deafeningly loud in the past decade.

This signing could be seen as the start of a powershift, a harkening back to the glory days, not to mention the fact City were actively looking for a striker to fill the void left by Sergio Aguero. The additions of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane only add to the narrative that United are building something exciting, a team capable of challenging for the Premier League for the first time in years.

Ronaldo has signed a two-year deal with the option for a further year, and he spoke of his pride to resign to a club he calls a home and reiterated his enduring desire to win things. At the age of 36 many would have expected Ronaldo to move to a league less demanding such as the MLS or Ligue 1, so his move to the Premier League is only a testament to his elite winning mentality. 

This is the mentality that United must galvanise amongst the whole squad in order to bring the club back to glory, and there will be no better time than now for United to move onto the next level and start winning trophies again. If anyone can install that winning mentality and restore the club to glory its United’s most famous number seven.

Written by Sam Wilson

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