5 good reasons why Manchester United shouldn't sign Cristiano Ronaldo
It’s a nice thought. At 32, Cristiano Ronaldo returns a hero to Old Trafford and fires home 30 league goals to lead Manchester United to the Premier League title. As huge shirt sales and endorsement deals cover his transfer fee, he and Jose Mourinho make peace to usher in a new golden era.
Behind all the romance hide a couple of cold truths that may not make a Ronaldo deal such a good idea for United after all
Ronaldo, who reportedly wants to leave Real Madrid over a £12.9m tax fraud allegation from the Spanish authorities, might well seem to be what United need. They have repeatedly squandered costly chances at home to weaker sides, an issue he would surely fix.
Like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, he would also be what Carlo Ancelotti calls a ‘technical leader’: a role model whose extreme professionalism raises standards in the dressing room.
Yet behind all the romance hide a couple of cold truths that may not make a Ronaldo deal such a good idea for United after all...
1. Worth four players
The starting point is the transfer fee. Ronaldo signed a five-year contract extension in November, meaning Madrid are by no means desperate to sell. Neither are they averse to keeping players against their will. If president Florentino Perez is to live down flogging their best player since Alfredo Di Stefano, the price tag had better be big.
When you consider that Real Madrid also appear to prize Alvaro Morata at near £60m, we can assume Ronaldo won’t be cheap. That’s not to mention his reported £400,000-a-week wages (just come back to us after you've gone for a lie down).
Still, United do have the money. The Ibrahimovic departure has lightened the wage bill, and their commercial cash machine will finance the fee. The bigger question is whether they can afford to prioritise Ronaldo considering what else they need.
Even United do not have unlimited cash. So far, only centre-back Victor Lindelof has been added to a squad that finished sixth last season. They are screaming out for top-class signings as well as strength in depth and, since the current going rate for a decent player is at least £30m, Ronaldo would probably arrive at the expense of three or four other potential reinforcements.
2. Service required
If that outlay is to be justified, Ronaldo would have to transform the team on his own. That prospect is more realistic if he was still the player he was when he left in 2009. But he is not.
Whereas United knew him as a someone who could do everything on his own, he would now return as someone who needs everything done for him. He has become an expert penalty-box striker, reliant on crosses, cutbacks and killer passes. He demands service.
That means United would have to build their team around him. Just as Madrid play Karim Benzema up front because he opens up space and plays unselfishly, United would want to create a framework that can meet Ronaldo’s needs.
And even if they do build this, it seems unlikely that Ronaldo would repeat his goalscoring rate from Spain.
3. From Luka to Luke
One of the reasons for a probable drop in scoring rate is that United are a weaker side than Real. A huge factor behind Ronaldo’s stratospheric stats at Madrid is the understated brilliance of players such as Marcelo, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, who ensure Madrid dominate and create a stream of chances each game.
So often and so well do Madrid attack that any striker would fancy his chances. Madrid have recently enjoyed an excellent record without Ronaldo, both for wins and goals scored – and his replacements tend to find the net at a high rate, partly because the chances that usually fall to him now come their way.
What should make Ronaldo valuable is his finishing. He proved deadly in the Champions League this season, though in La Liga his conversion rate was actually modest. About 15.4% of his attempts went in, which is worse than other reported United targets such as Romelu Lukaku (22.7%) and Morata (27.3%). Ronaldo scores, but he gets a lot of chances too.
At United, he may not. Luke Shaw is not Marcelo and Ander Herrera is not Modric. Jose Mourinho would also play more cautiously than Zinedine Zidane, and it's worth remembering that Madrid scored 106 league goals this season, whereas United hit 54. Expecting Ronaldo to replicate his current stats would be wildly optimistic.