Manchester United discussed the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo in January – now he wants out

Late on Sunday night, only Cristiano Ronaldo really knew if he would sign up for pre-season preparation at Manchester United today.

As doubts continue to grow over the forward’s future, many at the club – including new manager Erik ten Hag and senior United officials – were unsure whether the Portugal captain would show up. Well-placed sources claimed Ronaldo would stay away as part of the next step in an exit strategy that began when Jorge Mendes met Chelsea and spoke to Bayern Munich.

When cars carrying United players drove into Carrington at 07:30 on Monday, Ronaldo was not there. Shortly before 9am, confirmation came that Ronaldo was not expected at all. Family reasons were cited and accepted by the club.

It is unclear whether he will sign up before United leaves on Friday for their pre-season tour to Thailand and Australia. His presence on that flight is considered non-negotiable at this stage.

On the other hand, he was due to arrive in Carrington on Monday for training, along with the other United players who were given an extended break after their international service. His no-show followed Saturday night’s news that he had asked to leave the Premier League club to take on a new challenge. He wants the promise of Champions League football next season – a development that seems to have caught United by surprise.

United insist Ronaldo is not for sale and expects to fly to Bangkok, Thailand on Friday for the first leg of the club’s pre-season tour. However, much will depend on the talks that will take place with Ten Hag after Ronaldo returns to training.

While Ronaldo has told United he would be happy to leave if the club gets a fair offer for him this summer, he has reportedly not spoken directly to Ten Hag about his future. That conversation will go a long way in deciding whether Ronaldo stays or not.

Keeping Ronaldo away when the rest of the team is together for the first time under Ten Hag feels important. However, he was given the same leeway when he flew to Portugal in March when it became clear he would miss the Manchester derby. He reported a recurrence of a hip flexor problem and returned to his home country without asking permission, causing surprise in United’s dressing room given the importance of the fixture.

From United’s point of view, it is expected that Ronaldo will serve out the last 12 months of his contract, but there is an acceptance that Ten Hag may need to convince Ronaldo to buy into what he is trying to do at United to make the player think. make change.

United believe Ronaldo has genuine affection for the club, and the hope is that through a face-to-face meeting with Ten Hag – the new manager has individual talks with all first-team players – the attacker will reconsider his plans and commit to Old Trafford to stay.

That’s the best-case scenario. The worst part is that he refuses to change his position, reiterates his wish to leave, and Ten Hag is in big trouble ahead of the pre-season tour of Bangkok, Melbourne and Perth, where Ronaldo’s presence would be required given the appetite. from sponsors, but serve as a great distraction.

What is clear is that Ten Hag was dealt a tough hand early in his tenure, albeit a set of cards that some people at Old Trafford could have predicted a while ago. The prospect of Ronaldo leaving United finally bubbled beneath the surface as the team’s form flattened under both Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick.

As previously reported by the athletic, Ronaldo’s United team-mates got the impression that the attacker might want to move this summer if the club failed to qualify for the Champions League. Around the turn of the year, stories about his future surfaced.

Rangnick publicly stated that no player should be held against his will and personally went stronger.

More than once, Rangnick has suggested to football director John Murtough and chief executive officer Richard Arnold to sell and replace Ronaldo during the January transfer window. There would have been several emails and messages on this subject.

Rangnick believed that as Ronaldo’s time at United after the end of the season was precarious, it made sense to step in sooner or later to reconfigure the squad’s attack. In addition, Rangnick believed that Ronaldo did not represent United’s long-term success and that recruiting a player more suited to his high-pressure style could bring immediate benefits to the second half of the campaign. Murtough and Arnold resist.

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Rangnick suggested selling Ronaldo in January (Image: OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

Nevertheless, Rangnick used his press conferences to clarify his ideas about the direction United would take – and insisted that a new striker be signed even if Ronaldo remained. Six months later and United are on the back foot.

When the athletic reported a week ago that Chelsea’s new co-owner Todd Boehly met in Portugal with Mendes, the agent representing Ronaldo, and the idea of ​​the move forward to Stamford Bridge was discussed in some quarters as an obvious attempt to pressure United to make purchases. Saturday’s development made it clear that Mendes did not play any games.

In the eyes of some, the situation with Ronaldo is not black and white. There is a theory that Ronaldo’s departure could help Ten Hag’s rebuilding rather than hinder. It’s an argument not without merit, given the challenge for any coach to house Ronaldo – the 2022 model – in a tactical system that capitalizes on the collective’s strengths.

Ronaldo will play at this stage of his career to be way. While that guarantees goals – he was United’s top scorer last season with 24 in all competitions – there are legitimate questions about the benefits of starting a new era with an individualistic attacker who turns 38 in February.

There is also a bigger picture that transcends Ronaldo’s direct influence on the team and sheds light on the extent to which his presence has sometimes inhibited those around him. Sources close to United players told the athletic that Ronaldo’s departure would ‘liberate’ some of his teammates and allow them to express themselves again, almost as if a weight had been lifted off their shoulders.

United’s stance on all this is quite different. As for the club, there is no panacea for news that Ronaldo wants out and they are adamant that he will not leave Old Trafford this summer.

In addition, his position was not considered a priority when United drew up their list of the areas to target this summer – central defender and central midfielder among others – and they have neither the finances nor a plan to recruit a striker. who would promise Ronaldo a similar goal.

Indeed, United’s recruiting strategy so far reflects Ten Hag’s planning and vision for the team; a vision where Ronaldo would be the center of attack next season. As a result, United have not actively pursued a striker during this period and have missed out on bidding for potential targets. Darwin Nunez, for example, eventually came from Benfica to Liverpool for £64 million rising to a potential £85 million.

Some close to United doubt Ronaldo has a move planned yet. Others with an in-depth knowledge of how the transfer market works, and in particular how Mendes works, find it hard to believe that Ronaldo’s agent would act this way without knowing that a club is seriously interested. “He wouldn’t want to embarrass himself,” said a source close to United.

Realistically, though, it’s difficult to see many buyers for Ronaldo this summer, given his salary demands – he earns £500,000 a week at Old Trafford – the state of the European transfer market, his age and the fact that he is so difficult to integrate into a team framework.

On the surface, Chelsea are his only option in England, but it’s easy to see why their manager Thomas Tuchel wouldn’t be as excited about the prospect of signing Ronaldo as Boehly, even if he desperately needs an attacker to lead . the line.

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Could a return to Italy be at stake for Ronaldo? (Photo: Giuseppe Cottini/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

That aside, Paris Saint-Germain has said they “don’t want any more flashy, bling-bling” while Bayern Munich are a non-starter. It is clear that the Bundesliga champions spoke briefly about Ronaldo and realized almost in the same breath that the transfer was pointless.

All of this leaves open the possibility of a return to La Liga, which seems highly unlikely, or Italy, where Ronaldo spent three years at Juventus and scored 100 goals for the club faster than any player in their history before his last re-signed for United summer.

While Italy’s tax cuts ease some of the burden of taking on Ronaldo’s massive wages, Serie A is on its knees after the pandemic. With the top clubs incurring huge losses, the biggest cash deal over the summer period to date (excluding options to make loans permanent) is the €12 million (£10.3 million) Sassuolo will spend on Penarol’s Agustin Alvarez.

Could Napoli make a deal work for Ronaldo? They’re back in the Champions League, which ticks that box, but they’re also cutting costs. Aurelio De Laurentiis, the owner of Napoli, was dismissive of the idea of ​​Edinson Cavani returning to the club. “Drawing a goalkeeper at 34, 35, 36 is fine,” said De Laurentiis. “Drawing a striker of that age is not that.”

Ronaldo is not the future for United either. But Ten Hag must work quickly to find a way to replace his goals when there is no turning back.

Additional Contributor: James Horncastle

(Top photo: David S Bustamante/Socrates/Getty Images)

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