The date will remain etched in the memory of Manchester United fans worldwide. It was September 11 when Cristiano Ronaldo stepped foot inside Old Trafford, once again wearing the famous red jersey of the 20-time English champions.
The frenzy and hype surrounding the fixture was akin to a cup final and the the great man put in a show for the ages. It seemed like the club’s decision to bring back their former superstar was just what the team needed at that point.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was doing a great job as manager, successfully making the top four two seasons in a row along with regular deep runs into the knockout competitions.
The Norwegian believed that the club needed a midfielder to change the club’s fortunes and ensure a first title in almost a decade.
But the club hierarchy vetoed his initial call and were forced to bring back the Portuguese once news emerged of Manchester City’s interest in their former talisman.
The start could hardly have gone better as the five-time Ballon d’Or winner plundered two goals and broke the hearts of the Magpies. Newcastle were put to the sword and ended up losing 4-1.
It was the perfect second homecoming and fans started believing that their beloved club was close to achieving greatness once again and the return of their prodigal son was about to herald that very change.
But alas, things unravelled pretty fast as the Red Devils had to employ three different managers during the course of the season. They failed to put in any consistent run of note after that promising start.
United’s No 7 kept on scoring and hoping for things to improve but it never did. And despite his personal achievements, his teammates could not conjure up anything special as United finished a disappointing sixth.
Ronaldo disrupting team growth?
The Portugal international was not to be exonerated completely. A recurring pattern emerged of players trying to desperately to find him as Ronaldo, with his typical single-minded focus to score, failed to put in a shift like everyone else.
I really despise how every creator bar Sancho fire everything at Ronaldo. You could make a 10 min clip of players making wrong pass/final ball elections in favour of Ronaldo
— Adroit Cadet (@Adroit_Cadet) October 16, 2022
There were murmurs of dressing room discontent and sometimes his petulant acts on the field did not help matters. But since his goal count remained high, not too many accusatory fingers were pointed his way.
Now, a season on from that fateful day, it seems like life has come full circle for the 37-year-old. He was desperate to leave United for a Champions League club but nobody came in to rescue him despite agent Jorge Mendes’ best efforts.
And under Erik ten Hag, the striker is expected to put in a shift just like all the others. The greatest goalscorer of all time is not exactly known for that and as expected, has found his chances limited for the first time in his illustrious career.
With his goals drying up, coupled with a lack of effort, the former Real Madrid man is finally showing his age. Against Newcastle, Ronaldo was a shadow of the player that swept them away just a season ago.
He huffed and puffed but could not even get one shot on target. His contribution was two disallowed goals and one yellow card as he was substituted for an under the weather Marcus Rashford.
His angry demeanour at being taken off could not hide the fact that he was completely toothless and his overall play was just as bad. He completed only 11 passes out of 19 for a passing accuracy of 58 per cent. He also lost possession eight times.
CR7 not the same force as before
Ronaldo’s habit of dropping deep to link up play also complicated matters as the team’s focal point went missing a number of times.
Rashford even had the chance to vindicate his manager’s trust but failed to make it count in the end. Nonetheless, he still made things happen during his brief cameo that his senior teammate had not been able to do during the lion’s share of the game.
Ten Hag seems to prefer Anthony Martial and Rashford as his strikers and it is no surprise why. Ronaldo is losing his touch and his teammates are desperately trying to force feed him when better options are available, to the detriment of the team.
United would do well to recruit a striker in January and let the Ronaldo circus leave town if they are serious about finishing in the top four. For all his worth and displays over the years, not many will take a punt on the ageing superstar at the moment.