EPL TALK: Dump Ronaldo before Asian tour, Man United

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Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo has reportedly indicated that he wants to leave the club.
Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo has reportedly indicated that he wants to leave the club. (PHOTO: Reuters/Phil Noble)

IT’S the classic Cristiano Ronaldo pose. Teeth gleaming. Fist pumping. Celebrating. Winning. He’s always got to be winning, even on a Thai poster advertising tickets for the upcoming friendly against Liverpool in Bangkok.

Click onto Manchester United’s official website and there he is again, towering over the upcoming list of branding exercises in Bangkok, Melbourne, Perth and Oslo, making that subliminal connection.

FC Ronaldo is hitting the road once more. Get your tickets for the visiting icon, before age finally defeats an unyielding will that bends only to an insatiable ego.

Ronaldo comes first. Ronaldo always comes first, an astonishing statement of fact that is both aspirational for those of us staring down at flabby bellies and a warning for his current employers. The 37-year-old has defied every conventional metric and expectation by doing whatever is necessary to keep him ahead of the chasing pack and prominent in every online ad for the exhibition against Liverpool on 12 July.

Even at the height of Beckham-mania in 2001, the Red Devils still visited Singapore and Malaysia, not FC Becks, even if the celebrity roadshow felt like it was only one haircut away from toppling over. But David Beckham was never bigger than the institution, a point Sir Alex Ferguson made two years later, when he tired of the brand and dumped the footballer.

Erik ten Hag must consider a similar course of action, now, before the farce takes flight and heads for Thailand, before the Asia-wide devotees of the cult of Ronaldo strengthen the striker’s position with every Beatlemania re-enactment.

Ronaldo’s decision to announce his desire to leave United on the eve of the Asian tour was calculated, like every other facet of the footballer’s life and career. He anticipates. He weighs up his options. He picks his spot. Every time. It’s a thing of beauty in many ways, a chastening and humbling experience for the rest of us regular saps who meander through, relying on fate and dumb luck.

Ronaldo has no patience for silly superstitions. He bends all to his will. He needed a club with more money than sense after Juventus and dangled the stick of Manchester City long enough for Manchester United to wave the carrot of £500,000 a week for a forward of increasingly limited means.

He correctly surmised that United’s incurable addiction to nostalgia – at this point, it’s only a matter of time before we get The Class of 92 musical – would ensure that his ludicrous demands were met.

He’s banking on a similar outcome now. He’s relying on the screams in Bangkok and the homemade posters and full houses across Australia in his latest power move. It’s certainly not about football anymore.

Ronaldo scored 24 goals last season, including 18 in the English Premier League, which was eight more than any of his team-mates managed. Even if a cynical analysis indicates that his most accomplished performances came against the likes of Norwich and a wounded Tottenham, his numbers were arguably the difference between a poor season and a dreadful one.

But they do not matter so much in the curious case of Ronaldo, a unique situation that Ralf Rangnick never handled and ten Hag must, immediately, as he prepares the novel approach of putting football first again at a football club.

New Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag talks to players during a first -eam training session at Carrington Training Ground.
New Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag talks to players during a first -eam training session at Carrington Training Ground. (PHOTO: Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images)

The last thing Ronaldo needs right now is a modern football manager capable of managing a modern football club. He needs a wide-eyed, giggly disciple, a gullible Sven-Goran Eriksson for the TikTok age, an empty tracksuit enthralled by the colossal status of one of the GOATs.

He needs a subordinate.

Sounds silly? Ronaldo had one last season. In fact, he had a subordinate club. When he was dropped for the Manchester derby, he sulked off to Portugal. He wanted Harry Maguire’s armband. He reportedly mocked the training sessions. He did as he pleased.

And how was the Portuguese icon reprimanded for these indiscretions? He was rewarded with an unbalanced line-up and a tactical mess, all engineered to serve his inability – or unwillingness – to track back, to press or do anything other than score occasionally.

These are not criticisms of Ronaldo. He promised goals and delivered, all other concerns were and remain secondary. And he’ll say and do pretty much the same, should he fly to Bangkok. But it’ll be a personal exhibition, a clever display of his unparalleled marketing strength, turning his team-mates into reluctant, overlooked sidemen.

Ronaldo knows how this plays. Every question related to his transfer speculation underscores his influence. Every cheer for every touch emphasises his unrivalled global popularity, and every jersey with his name emblazoned across the shoulder blades highlights the distracting and damaging imbalance of power.

As he seeks to engineer another – and presumably final – transfer to one of the few remaining clubs capable of satisfying his financial demands, Ronaldo must effectively turn the pre-season tour into one, long narcissistic LinkedIn post. Look at me. Look at the numbers I can still pull in. Look at what I can do for you and your bottom line.

Meanwhile, in a quiet, leafy corner of Lancashire, ten Hag has just welcomed his full squad to pre-season training at Carrington, for the first time under his watch. There are too many familiar faces. He has signed no one - yet - and fans are restless. In the first sessions, he’ll have only Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford as other potential strikers.

And Ronaldo, the masterful scavenger, will revel in the new manager’s weakness.

The Asian tour promises to be another PR coup d'état, unless ten Hag succeeds where his predecessors failed and ends the club’s unhealthy obsession with nostalgia.

The Asian tour promises to be another PR coup d'état, unless ten Hag succeeds where his predecessors failed and ends the club’s unhealthy obsession with nostalgia.

The newcomer can exploit his striker’s power play and quickly remove the obvious impediment to his hard-pressing tactical plans and make a final break with the Red Devils’ past.

Ten Hag needs to take Manchester United to Asia, rather than the Ronaldo globetrotters.

Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 26 books.

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