While Ronaldo meets expectations, Man United’s troubles run so deep that not even he can save them
MANCHESTER, England — Maybe the Glazers will never get it right as Manchester United owners. When they signed Tom Brady for their NFL franchise, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they were rewarded with a Super Bowl title at the first attempt, but for all of Cristiano Ronaldo‘s goals and star quality, the best they can hope for this season is Europa League qualification such is the depth of the malaise at Old Trafford.
Ronaldo took his Premier League goal tally to 18 with a second-half equaliser, two minutes after Marcos Alonso’s volleyed opener, in Thursday’s 1-1 home draw against Chelsea. Only Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, with 22, has scored more this season.
This United team is so bad, so bereft of confidence, that even Ronaldo’s incredible contribution since his return to Old Trafford from Juventus last August has only been good enough to take them into sixth position in the table, five points behind fourth-placed Arsenal, who have played two games fewer. As for league leaders Manchester City and second-place Liverpool — United’s two biggest rivals are still on course to meet in the Champions League final in Paris next month — they are 25 and 24 points clear of United, respectively.
While Ronaldo has done exactly what he was expected to do when he signed for United — he has scored eight of their past nine goals — the rest of the team has performed so poorly that his heroics have been unable to carry the club to glory, or anywhere close to it, this season.
The comparison between Ronaldo and Brady is a loose one in the sense that two of modern sports’ most iconic figures play a completely different ballgame, but by signing both of them, it shows you how the Glazers roll the dice as owners. They place a huge value on the individual star name, hoping their personality and reputation can transform an average team into a winning one, at the same time as delivering an uptick in commercial revenue.
It worked for the Bucs, who won their first Super Bowl in 18 years after signing Brady for the 2020 season, but Ronaldo is the latest big name to discover that United cannot be inspired to sporting miracles. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Radamel Falcao, Angel Di Maria, Alexis Sanchez and Paul Pogba — who will leave as a free agent this summer after six disappointing years at Old Trafford — have all tried and failed to pull off what Brady achieved with Tampa.
As the anti-Glazer protests in and around Old Trafford before and during the Chelsea game showed, the fans pin the blame for years of stagnation firmly at the door of United’s American owners. The Glazers have been unpopular ever since they plunged United into debt with their leveraged takeover in 2005. Seventeen years on, the success of the Sir Alex Ferguson years is now a distant memory, and it has been five years and counting since the club’s last trophy.
That barren run is down to failed managerial appointments and wasted money in the transfer market. Mismanagement in the boardroom and at the training ground has left United with a hugely underperforming squad and an interim manager in Ralf Rangnick who is now expected to accept the role of Austria coach, leaving his planned role as a consultant at Old Trafford in doubt.
This draw against Chelsea means Rangnick has overseen a run of just one win in seven games. His predecessor, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, was fired in November after winning two of his last seven, so it’s a safe bet to suggest that United won’t be pleading with the former RB Leipzig coach to ignore his Austrian escape route.
Rangnick has become popular among many United fans with his blunt assessment of the club’s the players and the hierarchy’s decision-making in recent years, but he has also cleverly deflected the scrutiny from his own shortcomings in terms of man management, tactics and selection. This is the Manchester United of 2022: Everyone is looking for somebody else to blame and attempting to protect their own reputation, while the fans continue to call for the Glazers to sell up and leave.
It is a club that seems desperate for this season of turmoil to end, with everyone waiting for Erik ten Hag, the incoming coach from Ajax, to start the job of rebuilding confidence and belief and restoring some hunger and pride to the squad.
Ten Hag will inherit plenty of problems, but Ronaldo isn’t one of them. The Glazers are, because the fans will never accept them, but ten Hag can only deal with that issue by building a winning team that gives the supporters something positive to focus on.
On the evidence of this United team, though, he needs to have the qualities of Brady and Ronaldo rolled into one to bring the good times back to Old Trafford.