Cristiano Ronaldo was Man Utd's top scorer last season with 24 goals in all competitions; Man Utd's players report back for pre-season training this week and Ronaldo is likely to remain a key figure under new manager Erik ten Hag despite critics suggesting otherwise
Monday 11 July 2022 08:37, UK
Manchester United insist Cristiano Ronaldo is not for sale despite reports he could leave this summer. With at least one year remaining on his contract, Sky Sports discusses why the forward is likely to stay at the club under Erik ten Hag.
Speaking at the beginning of June, Ronaldo said he is "very happy" to remain at United and believes they will rebound from a dreadful 2021/22 season.
The 37-year-old returned to United last summer - 12 years after originally leaving for Real Madrid - and netted 24 goals in 38 games to finish as the club's top scorer in all competitions.
But while it was a strong campaign in front of goal for Ronaldo, it was a disastrous one for the team. United finished sixth in the Premier League and failed to lift a trophy for a fifth consecutive season.
The five-time Ballon d'Or winner has played in the Champions League for 19 campaigns in a row and United's failure to qualify for the competition has led to speculation he could leave Old Trafford for a second time.
But as United's players report back for pre-season training and look to impress Ten Hag, Ronaldo is likely to remain a key figure despite critics suggesting otherwise.
Ten Hag is expected to recreate a brand of the high-intensity style he employed at Ajax, which raises questions about how Ronaldo will cope with his demands.
Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville has admitted pressing is not Ronaldo's strong point, but feels Ten Hag "will want someone who can put the ball in the back of the net 20 or 25 times".
Ronaldo's 24 goals in all competitions last season dwarfed the return of his team-mates. Bruno Fernandes was the club's next highest scorer on 10 goals, followed by Mason Greenwood on six.
Once a tricky and dynamic winger, Ronaldo has now evolved into a prolific No 9 but has shown he can still link up effectively with those behind him.
Ten Hag could look to use the veteran in a similar way to how he deployed Dusan Tadic while Ajax boss. During the 2018/19 season, when Ten Hag's side famously reached the Champions League semi-finals, Tadic played up front but combined well with Hakim Ziyech and David Neres on either wing and Donny van de Beek just behind him.
That system worked perfectly for Ten Hag as each player complemented each other, but if the 52-year-old is to successfully implement a similar set-up next season, finding the right personnel to fit around Ronaldo is a must.
Neither Ole Gunnar Solskjaer nor Ralf Rangnick were able to work out the correct formula, but Ronaldo's prolific form in front of goal means Ten Hag will want his team to function productively with the 37-year-old in it - at least during his first year in charge.
Despite all the noise, both parties have previously expressed their desire to work with each other.
After being unveiled as the new United manager, Ten Hag swiftly announced he was eager to keep Ronaldo.
Asked if Ronaldo fits into his project, Ten Hag said in May: "Of course."
On what Ronaldo will bring, he simply added: "Goals!"
Ronaldo had welcomed the arrival of Ten Hag, insisting the Dutchman can secure more silverware for the club.
"I know he did a fantastic job for Ajax and that he's an experienced coach but we need to give him time," said Ronaldo. "Things need to change the way he wants.
"I hope we have success, of course, because if you have success all of Manchester are going to have success as well. So I wish him the best.
"We are happy and excited, not only the players but the supporters as well. I wish him the best and let's believe that next year we're going to win trophies."
It might sound obvious given his age, but Ronaldo's experience is arguably even more important next season following a number of high-profile departures and as Ten Hag finds his feet.
Veterans Nemanja Matic, Edinson Cavani and Juan Mata have all left Old Trafford - along with Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard - while Lee Grant's retirement leaves Ronaldo as the oldest and most senior figure at the club.
His 18 Premier League goals single-handedly won games last season and his performances in the Champions League dragged his side through to the last 16.
With several young players already at the club and the potential for more to arrive, Ronaldo's know-how is crucial if Ten Hag is to be successful in his debut campaign.
As Paul Pogba closes in on a return to Juventus, Sky Sports looks at his second Manchester United career in numbers. Was he mismanaged or a mistake?
It is clear the goalscoring burden at United needs to be shared. Ronaldo will turn 38 next season, so it is obvious United need more options to make the difference in the final third. He won't be able to play three games a week consistently.
As former interim manager Rangnick said after April's draw with Chelsea: "Right now we very much rely on Cristiano."
A young striker to deputise for and learn from Ronaldo seems like a sensible option. It is vital United are successful in convincing a forward to join this summer, with Cavani out of contract and Anthony Martial's future up in the air after an underwhelming loan spell with Sevilla.
Could reports of Ronaldo wanting to leave force United to speed up their activity in the transfer market this summer?
Manchester City and Liverpool have already made high-profile signings in Erling Haaland and Darwin Nunez. Top-four contenders Tottenham and Arsenal have also been busy while Chelsea appear to be wasting little time following the confirmation of new ownership.
Ronaldo's agent Jorge Mendes met Chelsea's new co-owner Todd Boehly last week and the forward was mentioned during the meeting, but United have no intention of selling him.
Earlier this month, Ronaldo said in an interview with the club: "I was happy, of course, to be back in a club that really raised my career, so it was unbelievable, the feeling when I came back again. It was nice to feel the supporters - the happiness of them was great.
"I was and still am very happy to be here, and what I have to say to the fans is they are amazing. Even when we lost games, they always support us, they always are with us. The supporters are always in my heart and it's the people that we all should respect because they are always on our side.
"For me, the most important thing is to try to win the games and try to win some championship or some cup, but I believe that Manchester will be where they belong. As I say before, sometimes it takes time but I still believe."
With Old Trafford chiefs still working on deals for Ten Hag's primary targets - including Frenkie de Jong and Christian Eriksen - Ronaldo's belief might not last long. However, staying in Manchester for at least one more season is still the most likely outcome.
Portuguese football expert Pedro Sepulveda to Sky Sports:
"When the transfer window is open, it's normal that we talk about Cristiano Ronaldo. Manchester United are not in the Champions League next season and Ronaldo is unhappy about this.
"He is completely obsessed with playing in the competition so he's not living well with the reality that he's not going to be playing in it in the immediate future.
"He's spoken to his agent Jorge Mendes, who is seeing if there are any other options. He said he would speak to the clubs who are targeting winning the Champions League to see what could be done in terms of a change in this summer transfer window.
"You can forget the English clubs - Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham - as I'm 100 per cent sure Ronaldo will not play for another club in England, while Ronaldo doesn't fit into the new project at PSG.
"It leaves Bayern Munich as an option. There wasn't an interest from Bayern but Mendes spoke with them and posed the question - 'what do you think about buying Ronaldo for next season?' Bayern were a little bit confused when Mendes offered them Ronaldo as he's not the type of player they'd usually look for.
"When an agent offers Ronaldo, you only need to look at the sporting performance - not the age. Ronaldo has a salary of around £25m so it's not easy for any club to afford. Mendes has asked Bayern about what they think.
"A swap with Robert Lewandowski isn't an option as he either stays or goes to Barcelona. These are just rumours at this stage, and it's normal when it comes to Ronaldo."
"The last piece of the puzzle." That is how Jose Mourinho described Manchester United's Europa League final win over Ajax in May 2017. United were, he pointed out, now a club that had won every trophy in the world of football.
The victory that night in Stockholm was supposed to be the beginning, not the end. It may have been their third trophy of the season - as Mourinho memorably gesticulated with his fingers - but it had also been what he described as his most difficult season as a manager.
United muddled through at times, finishing sixth in the Premier League. But back then even a spluttering version of the red machine seemed capable of churning out silverware. Louis van Gaal had been sacked with the FA Cup plonked right in front of him.
There was an acceptance that United needed to improve and an assumption that they would. Instead, the fifth anniversary of that win came and went but it remains the club's most recent trophy. Liverpool have won six since then. Manchester City have won 11.
How has that happened? How has it been allowed to happen? It is a tale of hubris and self-harm, a club hindered by too many voices and too few. From ownership to recruitment, the problems were myriad. The solution? It is unclear whether that has yet been found.
With five years now having passed since United's last trophy, we look at how and why it went wrong for a club that had once been synonymous with success...
Who will be on the move this summer when the transfer window opens on June 10 and closes at 11pm on September 1?
Keep up-to-date with all the latest transfer news and rumours in our dedicated Transfer Centre blog on Sky Sports' digital platforms. You can also catch up with the ins, outs and analysis on Sky Sports News.