Home » Erik ten Hag’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Anthony Martial headache

Erik ten Hag’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Anthony Martial headache

by Derick Kinoti

Erik ten Hag’s arrival at Manchester United came with an open door to numerous possibilities. Under the ethos, principles, and blueprint of a new coach, with refreshing ideas, there is hope within a wide section of the fanbase that United could rise from the ashes and reclaim their glory as kings of England.

The evidence of Ten Hag’s impact on the United team has been visible so far in pre-season. The Red Devils have netted 11 times, while only conceding twice against bitter rivals Liverpool, Melbourne Victory, and Crystal Palace.

However, the thing that has caught the eye of all supporters has been the manner in which United have been playing while on tour. In stark contrast to periods under former manager Ole Gunnar Solksjaer and interim boss Ralf Rangnick, United seems to be revitalized and playing with newfound energy.

The team has been lauded in recent days for its in-game dominance, counter-pressing, rapid recovery of the ball, bold decisions during possession, and creation of wave after wave of attacks reminiscent of the manager’s former Ajax teams. While there is a need to exercise caution and remain calm with pre-season performances, there are clear signs of visible improvement that should excite supporters.

Central to the team’s renewed vigour has been Anthony Martial. The Frenchman has been in scintillating form in Bangkok and Melbourne, scoring three in as many games. The 26-year-old has been in fine form on United’s tour, combining well with teammates Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, with whom he appears to be forming a deadly trio.

Martial, who has started all three matches as Ten Hag’s chosen center forward in a 4-2-3-1 formation, has also been immense off the ball and in his defensive duties – something he has been accused of lacking in the past. The firing forward seems to be enjoying his football again, and amidst reports that United were once willing to listen to offers for him, his recent displays on tour could have earned him a place in Ten Hag’s plans.

The France International may also emerge as the biggest winner from the conspicuous absence of five-time Ballon D’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo. News broke that the 37-year-old had asked the United hierarchy to let him leave Old Trafford in the event that a suitable offer for him arrives.

Barely a year after making a sensational return to the Theatre of Dreams, the Portuguese captain has been linked with moves away to a host of clubs around Europe, including Bayern Munich, Napoli, Roma, Atletico Madrid, and even Premier League rivals Chelsea.

The highest goalscorer in the history of men’s football and his facilitator Jorge Mendes have however encountered unprecedented blocks in their efforts to push for an exit way from Old Trafford. As per multiple reports, most clubs have flatly rejected the chance to sign United’s number 7, who has one year left on his contract.

Bayern Munich officials have publicly come out on multiple occasions to quash any rumors of a potential switch to Bavaria for Ronaldo. PSG chiefs are also said to not be warm to the prospect of adding the 37-year-old to their already star-studded attack.

While Chelsea co-owner Todd Boehly was interested in signing Ronaldo as a statement signing of his new era at the London club, Thomas Tuchel was not receptive to the idea of the Portuguese spearheading his attack. Other interested parties in Italy who toyed around with the idea of signing Ronaldo also promptly dismissed his advances on account of not being able to afford the massive wages he would command.

Granted it is still early in the transfer market and Ronaldo might still get his move, but he is currently set to remain at United for another season. The player failed to turn up for training and has still not appeared for the team’s pre-season.

In case the Portugal International stays at Old Trafford and makes his return, should Ten Hag immediately re-integrate him back into the team? Or should Martial, who is firing on all cylinders at the moment, be allowed to continue with his run in the side?

There are many fans who have been left with a sour taste in their mouth with Ronaldo’s behavior as he seeks out a move away from Manchester. It is impossible to argue against the fact that in some quarters, many supporters feel betrayed by his actions and feel that it would be in everybody’s best interests for the five-time Champions League winner to get his move. Ronaldo has come under fire for his disappearance, which both the player’s camp and the club have attributed to ‘personal reasons.’

There is an argument that Martial is slowly but surely embedding himself in the team, and is up to speed with the new coach’s tactical tweaks and style of play. Martial is also significantly younger than Ronaldo who is in the sunset of his illustrious and trophy-laden career. How can United move forward into the new era when a 37-year-old is still the focal point of the attack?

Take into account the nature of football the new United boss would likely look to implement that by his own admission, would entail ‘pressing all day’ and lots of running. While Martial has had his critics for not working hard defensively, the 26-year-old has improved significantly in this regard going by his pre-season performances. It may prove extremely difficult for an aging Ronaldo to be the press-initiator in such a system, who in his youth was also not much of a pressing machine anyway.

Ronaldo however guarantees goals and an injection of leadership that the United dressing room has been accused of lacking. Ten Hag has maintained publicly that Ronaldo is not for sale and is relishing the opportunity of working with the star, who he once described as a ‘giant of football.’

While Ronaldo will always have his proponents and rightly so for his extensive achievements and accolades in the game, there is a good argument that it may be best for United to allow him to leave. Should United receive an acceptable offer, it would be wise to consider it and invest in a young and dynamic attacker who would share the striker role with Martial, who is clearly thriving.

Certainly, Ten Hag has a dilemma on his hands and if it comes down to it, a decision will need to be made.

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