Manchester United has a Cristiano Ronaldo dilemma this season. It’s no secret, and many are tired of discussing it. The Portuguese superstar is staying at Old Trafford at least until January, and most likely til the end of the season. But Ronaldo, at this stage in his career, doesn’t quite fit into what Eric ten Hag wants his side to do. But, yet again, United is also still in dire need of an out and out number 9. So, what is United to do with a 37 year old world megastar?
I’ll tell you what they should do, doesn’t mean they will, but it’s the best option for both the club and the player. Eric ten Hag should continue to use Ronaldo as a 30 minute super sub and Ronaldo should embrace it. While Ronaldo took a while to get off the mark officially, he has looked all sorts of dangerous and effective in all of his substitute appearances this season.
Cristiano could play an other 3 seasons at an extremely high level should he choose to embrace the role as a super sub. I believe CR7 could mange 15 goals a season just playing the final 30 minutes of every match.
Father Time Comes for Us All
For many years it has seemed age could not catch Cristiano Ronaldo. This superhuman of a man could be named Men’s Health Healthiest Man of the Year every year should they choose to. In fact, Ronaldo has a higher goals per 90 ratio after he turned 30 than he did before. Ronaldo after turning 30, averages 0.93 goals per match, compared to 0.64 before he turned 30. That is absolutely insane.
This is not the way it is supposed to happen. Once a footballer turns 30 they’re supposed start losing their hair, retire in MLS, then go on to manage that same MLS club, whilst looking as if they’ve aged 35 years. (Sorry Wayne)
Unfortunately, while Ronaldo is still effective, he has clearly lost a step and its beginning to show. The game now requires more running than ever before and many modern coaches, including Eric ten Hag, want their attackers to not only press but also track back. Last season Ronaldo was dead last in Europe’s top 5 leagues when it came to pressures, managing just 6.61 per 90 minutes.
Speaking after the Liverpool match, Eric ten Hag said:
“We know Liverpool are a really good team and you need to press them, you have to do that out of a block…that is why we went with Rashford, Sancho, and Elanga.” -Eric ten Hag
The schedule congestion is another reason for Ronaldo to be more open to this new role. The World Cup will take place in the middle of the season. It will most likely be Ronaldo’s final ever World Cup as a player. Matches are being played at a minimum of 2 times a week for the entirety of the season. This is to make up for the World Cup taking a month out of the regular schedule.
Ronaldo will start every match for CR7 at the World Cup. Having low mileage on his legs, but still playing consistently and being in form is only a benefit for Ronaldo and his country.
The game is quicker now, much quicker. Ronaldo can still be effective, but he’s at a stage in his career in which he must adapt.
This Isn’t the End
Playing the super sub role does not spell the end for Ronaldo by any means. Cristiano will still get starts and can still go on runs of impeccable football as a starter. Ronaldo just needs to realize he will no longer be a guaranteed starter. Other players have taken on this role to great success, but Ronaldo could do it even better.
Last season Zlatan Ibrahimović made 11 starts and 12 substitute appearances. He was seen as a key figure in Milan’s first title in a decade. Ronaldo would play even more than Zlatan, as he is in even better physical shape. Ronaldo has all the abilities of Zlatan and then some. The Portuguese man is quicker and has more playmaking ability than Zlatan. Ronaldo would manage more starts.
Eric ten Hag has even said the opportunity to reclaim a starting place will always be there, for any player.
“We have more than 11 starting players. For players not now in the team, at any moment they can come in and do it even better than the ones that are in.”- Eric ten Hag
When asked if it would be possible for Ronald to be a starter again this season Eric ten Hag said, “Of Corse!” He went on to say, “He is ready to start!”
The Super Sub Role
CR7 has already played in the super sub role this season. After two straight EPL losses to open the season, Ronaldo has not started a league match. But he has come on for the last 30 minutes of every one of those matches. He has looked threatening, energetic, and even effective as a defender in those appearances. Ronaldo is not just a threat for goals, but a presence any team would want in their front line. Bringing him on late in a match gives the team an additional threat and a leader with more experience in winning titles than anyone else in the world.
With only 30 minutes remaining in a match, a fresh Ronaldo is dangerous. Ronaldo could come on while the opposing team slows and tires. He can expend all of his energy consistently over just 30 minutes and should even appear quicker as he attacks tiring defenders. Ronaldo is also great as a defensive aerial presence late in matches. Just look at his 30 minutes in the Liverpool match for proof of that.
Coming on late in matches will give Ronaldo the chance to play like his younger self again and be an absolute weapon for Manchester United.
Embracing this new role as a super sub would only further cement Ronaldo’s place in the history books as the GOAT. The new role would not only enable him to play many more years at the highest level and still grab goals, but would be an opportunity for him to display his leadership. After being called one of the most arrogant footballers ever, this move could see him also be labeled the humblest footballer of all time.
Ronaldo is already a legend, but he could add even more titles to his resume should he choose to. Manchester United would also label him their own greatest player of all time should he choose to be part of this rebuild and help bring United back to the top in this new role.
This also provides the opportunity for Ronaldo to further his football understanding and eventually get into management.
CR7 now has a choice. Retire in the MLS or play at the highest level into his 40’s.
Viva la Ronaldo!