Ole discusses Ronaldo debut
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Manchester United’s transfer business for the summer of 2021, with right-back Diogo Dalot to stay at Old Trafford meaning there is therefore no need to sign Atletico Madrid’s Kieran Trippier, looks done ahead of tonight’s 11pm deadline.
In Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane, United have made two world-class additions to their squad. The pair arrive at around £110million combined too, an impressive feat given Sancho would’ve cost £108m alone just 12 months ago.
The midfield is certainly an area that still needs strengthening. The lack of a dominant holding midfielder may well hurt United’s chances of winning the biggest trophies – the Premier League and the Champions League – this year. Work should be underway already establishing the best options to address that problem next summer.
Right-back was another position Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was open to recruiting in. But Dalot is more than capable of taking on the duties Trippier was being earmarked for; acting as a more attacking alternative to Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
The return of club legend Cristiano Ronaldo is however of course the big story of United’s summer. While he’s not the explosive and dynamic phenomenon he was the last time he wore red at Old Trafford, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s productivity certainly remains phenomenal for his age.
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The Portuguese, now 36, should score plenty of goals between now and 2023. Certainly he’ll give United added oomph on Champions League nights given he has a record 134 goals in the competition. Even at Juventus, where his three-season stint was ultimately a failure, he still scored all seven of their knockout goals.
How Solskjaer keeps both Ronaldo and his main rival for the centre-forward position at United, Edinson Cavani, happy given he plays with just one striker will surely be the most fascinating sub-plot of United’s season. It could be a pivotal one, too.
Most likely Ronaldo’s prestige at the club and as one of the game’s all-time greats means he will command starting status. Cavani will probably come in when the team is rotated, and be a handy option off the bench, and may then depart upon the expiry of his contract next summer.
And if indeed it becomes clear later this season that the Uruguayan intends to return to South America to see out his season as a key player for a club like Boca Juniors, United must stick to their long-term recruitment plan in the position. Ronaldo’s presence must not deter them.
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Anthony Martial’s performance levels have dipped since his 23-goal 2019-20 season and he’s seemingly free to leave at the right price. A parting of ways seems sensible for both parties. If Martial and Cavani both leave within the next year, Ronaldo and Mason Greenwood will be United’s only senior options through the middle.
But the plan has seemingly always been for the Red Devils to be in the mix for Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland, a long-term target for Solskjaer. Even with Ronaldo still at the club, the Norwegian will be a top target for his compatriot.
The 21-year-old has managed an astonishing 63 goals and 18 assists in 64 games for the Bundesliga giants – a record only players like Ronaldo can dream of rivalling – and is primed to be one of Europe’s most prolific centre-forwards across the next decade.
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With Chelsea having signed Romelu Lukaku and Manchester City favouring Tottenham’s Harry Kane to Haaland, United are perhaps even the most attractive club available to the player.
Perhaps only City, if they give up on Kane after this summer, and Bayern Munich can join United at the front of the queue. Real Madrid appear preoccupied by Kylian Mbappe and Barcelona are strapped for cash. Haaland’s wage demands will rule out Liverpool as a possible destination.
Though he will be available at £64m due to a release clause – compared to his £150m price tag this summer – Haaland will command wages likely equal to or perhaps even greater than Ronaldo’s £500,000-a-week Old Trafford salary. That’s not just because of his quality but because Mino Raiola is his agent.
United are one of very few clubs who can afford to pay that, especially if the likes of Martial, Cavani and perhaps Paul Pogba and Juan Mata are off the wage bill. They don’t appear to enjoy dealing with Raiola but they may opt to sidestep that seemingly fractious relationship to sign a once-in-a-generation talent.
In 12 months’ time, Ronaldo will be 37 and a half and while Greenwood is a viable long-term central option, he will only be 20 by next summer himself. Haaland is a sensible target who can help ensure United are in the conversation for major honours for years to come alongside the likes of Greenwood, Sancho, Varane and Bruno Fernandes.
If the Glazers are serious about restoring United as a perennial title challenger and as one of the most feared teams on the continent, as this summer suggests they are, then signing Ronaldo should not put a stop to a swoop for Haaland next year.
United have plenty of reason to think they could tempt Haaland to Old Trafford; the ability to play with his former team-mate Sancho, work under his former manager Solskjaer and be a team-mate of his idol Ronaldo are among the many.
Signing Ronaldo was too good a chance to reject, and United simply could not have allowed the Portugal skipper to join neighbours Manchester City, but they must also ensure it does not stop them from at least trying to sign Haaland. They’ll likely regret it if it does.
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