Opinion: Signing Ronaldo could cost Solskjaer his job at Manchester United

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Over the last two and half seasons where Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has reigned over Manchester United, it has never been easy. 

At one of the biggest clubs in world football the job inevitably comes with a seismic level of pressure. But that is to be expected.


Solskjaer, to his credit, has taken a team who were down in dumps when he took over as interim boss in late 2018 following the sacking of Jose Mourinho, and has slowly but surely cultivated a team that is far more capable ability-wise than any squad United have had post-Sir Alex Ferguson.

However, the Norwegian has failed to win a single trophy so far, overseeing United’s longest trophy drought in decades. And despite going deep into most tournaments, even reaching the Europa League final last year, this search for something tangible to attach to the progress the club has made on the pitch remains elusive.

Instead, United’s only tangible results have come in the form of an improved position in the Premier League. Solskjaer has got the team into fourth and second in consecutive years he has taken charge for the full duration, showcasing some kind of improvement to the fluctuations brought about by his more established predecessors. Although, some may put this down to factors simply going in their favour, with Leicester City effectively bottling their top-four hopes on the last day against United in 2019/20, and with teams like Liverpool hit with massive injuries or Chelsea in transition last season.

He has also had a turbulent time with some real Jekyll and Hyde form home and away, simultaneously seeing United break the record for most away games without losing (29) – with the streak ending the weekend just gone against Leicester – and one of the worst home starts to a season in all of United’s history.

But this season has brought a new wave of pressure, and it may prove to be too much.

The Ronaldo Problem

United, on paper at least, had an objectively excellent window. Bringing in a winner such as Raphael Varane and a highly sought-after prospect like Jadon Sancho would have been a good window alone. But when the option to sign Cristiano Ronaldo, regarded by many as the greatest footballer of all time, became available to United it was hard to say no. But this could prove to be Solskjaer’s most fatal error.

Ronaldo, like Varane, is a winner. In terms of winning mentality and professionalism, CR7 should strengthen the United squad tenfold. Ronaldo also brings a pedigree to the club not seen since his departure for Real Madrid in 2009 and will also most definitely bring goals to the team. After all, he has already scored five times for United, including a brace on his second debut against Newcastle, and an incredibly important winner against Villareal in the Champions League.

With his pedigree also comes expectation, far more than what was already around. Because Ronaldo is a ready-made goal machine it is expected that he will take United onto the the next level they have been looking for.

However, Ronaldo is 36 years old. While he is a freak of nature, he has also carefully managed his body to maintain peak fitness, and this is where the main problem comes in.

Solskjaer has brought in a style that requires his team to press from the front, so a striker who is able to press frequently is a must for the system he wants to play.

However, as you can see from the above graphic, that is something the Portuguese simply doesn’t do. And that is a massive hindrance to United.

According to FB.ref, last season United were fifth out of all teams for pressures in the attacking third. However, this season United are not even in the top half for that metric, finding themselves down in 14th for pressures in the attacking third, showcasing a fundamental flaw to the system this season.

In fact, emphasising the lack of Ronaldo’s pressing so far this season, he has only pressed 1.36 times per 90 in the attacking third. Even last season he pressed 3.20 per 90. Although whether this is down to the player not doing it despite the system or down to the manager instructing him to not is unknown, so it is important to consider both scenarios.

Another thing to note is that this will also increase the workload of the other attacking players. Important players like Bruno Fernandes and Mason Greenwood will be forced to press more to make up Ronaldo’s deadweight in pressing. This will tire them out and will possibly increase their injury susceptibility, and United for certain cannot afford to be without Fernandes for an extended period.

Lack of priority in the transfer market

Another problem with the Ronaldo signing was that it hoovered up any lingering hopes of United signing a proper defensive midfielder, a position of weakness for them that has been exposed time and time again with damaging consequences.

Ronaldo inevitably demands a huge wage to justify the money he will bring the club through shirt sales and extra sponsorships (not that United need it), and so money that may have otherwise been set aside for the potential signing of a top-class defensive midfielder has instead been reallocated to afford his astronomical wages.

Like earlier, the facts are not 100% known behind the scenes, so it is unsure whether Solskjaer and the board were 100% in agreement about the signing (which would be completely understandable) or whether there was some pushback from the Norwegian, although this is admittedly unlikely. Whatever the case, the deal has happened, and this could ultimately prove to be Solskjaer’s undoing.

The lack of priority shown in the transfer market for a position arguably more important to address than centre back and right-wing were in the window is alarming to say the least. It is something that must be addressed in January, and not the summer if United plan on lifting any silverware come the end of the season.

Ronaldo is both a blessing and a curse for United, a pure goalscorer who has the ability to sniff goals from out of nowhere. But he is also a defensive build-up liability for a team that needs a strong front press to shield the glaring weaknesses behind it and who need all players to work in tandem for strong counters and breaking through defensive blocks.

The issue is now systemic, and Solskjaer needs to urgently find a solution to this problem, as well as a number of others, in order to find the right winning formula in a squad that is top-heavy and imbalanced with not all personnel fitting the system the way it wants to be played. You cannot use a Formula 1 car as a Rally Car, and you cannot use a Mini Cooper as an F1 car. They might do a job, but they wouldn’t be very good at it. And barring any miraculous remedy to the problem that will not change for Ronaldo, Solskjaer or United.

Whether or not he is up to the task, we will find out in the coming run of fixtures, where United play a host of top-six opposition as well as a brace of Champions League fixtures against Atalanta.

More Stories Cristiano Ronaldo Jadon Sancho Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Raphael Varane

1 Comment

  1. So true they prioritize Ronaldo when they knew that a defensive midfielder was required. Ole is a good coach and will never be. Fundamentally too many since last season he got it tactically wrong then mention it post match. He’s actually learning on the job. He’s holding on to player who wants to leave the eg Pogba which is a defensive liability. How many great games has Pogba played for ManU, not to many. He needs to go also Ole.

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