We also have five reasons they should…
1) He isn’t worth the money
Real Madrid aren’t going to sell Cristiano Ronaldo cheaply. He is their most marketable asset and their most prolific goalscorer. Even if this isn’t all just a power play from the Portuguese to improve his current contract/detract from his alleged tax fraud and he does want to return to Manchester, Florentino Perez is hardly going to give him away.
The latest figure, as plastered on the back page of the Daily Mirror, is that Manchester United would have to pay £175m plus David de Gea to sign Ronaldo. If we reasonably value De Gea at £80m, Ronaldo’s fee would almost treble the current world-record fee that United paid for Paul Pogba. That is ludicrous for a player with two to three years left at the highest level. For all the understandable excitement among a section of United’s support, the maths simply doesn’t make sense. Sorry.
Having mentioned De Gea, let’s stick with that theme. For even if United manage to broker a deal for Ronaldo that doesn’t include their current best player, you can be damn sure that Real will immediately reignite their attempts to sign him. Ronaldo would become United’s best player – and so he should for the money – but for three years De Gea has been the most consistent goalkeeper in the world outside of Gianluigi Buffon’s eternal genius. Having seen off Real’s latest attempts to lure De Gea back to Spain, it would be foolish to shake the hornet’s nest again.
The two obvious questions with even more obvious answers are thus: Before Ronaldo decided he wanted out of Madrid, were Manchester United even contemplating this approach? No. So is it worth completely shifting their transfer strategy based on the possibility (not probability) of signing a 32-year-old who is p*ssed off because of accusations of tax fraud? Again, no.
2) And that money could be used more wisely
Let’s conservatively say that a deal for Ronaldo would cost United £200m up front and £400,000 a week in wages, money spent to make it all about Ronaldo. Let’s reasonably say that the pursuit of Ronaldo will last for most of the summer, becoming the saga to end all sagas before being completed some time in early August. Every headline, season preview, pre-match question and post-match autopsy would all be centred around one man.
Is that really what United need? The last time they chased this golden goose over the course of a summer they ended up signing Marouane Fellaini and failing to land Ronaldo, Arturo Vidal or Leighton Baines.
Even if the pursuit is successful this time, United have other areas in the squad that require surgery. They can use that £200m, and the time it takes chasing Ronaldo, on a long-term solution at right-back and left-back, and an heir to Michael Carrick. They could sign Fabinho, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Bernard Mendy then have £100m for the striker they so obviously need.
Hell, with £200m they could turn Harry Kane’s head, give Daniel Levy something to think about and have £70m change for the rest. None of this makes sense.
3) They’re just getting played anyway
Call me a dreadful cynic, but in the world of football politics you can’t always take every word and action on face value, and that’s particularly true when it comes to Jorge Mendes.
Now maybe Ronaldo really has realised he is pining for a return to Manchester in the same week that he has been accused of tax fraud, but it would be a heck of a coincidence. Or, as is more likely, Ronaldo is attempting to persuade the authorities to drop the case against him by threatening to leave Spain, or persuading Real Madrid to agree to pay any fine he receives as part of an agreement to him staying at the Bernabeu.
I’ll let you decide which of the three is most likely, but United must be warned against becoming a pawn in Mendes’ game. Their transfer activity this summer depends on it.
4) Does Jose Mourinho even want this?
With 120 league goals over three seasons, there is no doubt that Ronaldo performed well under Mourinho’s management of Real Madrid. Yet there were constant rumours of bust-ups between star player and star coach, a battle of two extraordinary egos that were always likely to collide.
Mourinho himself accused Ronaldo of being unable to take advice, while Ronaldo was filmed mouthing “f*ck you” towards Mourinho after scoring for Madrid in May 2013. In his biography of Mourinho, Diego Torres describes the relationship as ‘toxic’, while in his biography of Ronaldo Guillem Balague recalls how Ronaldo had to be held back by his teammates to prevent him coming to physical blows with Mourinho. That hardly sets the scene for a serene homecoming.
Ronaldo’s time at Old Trafford saw him transformed from slight winger to football phenom, but a lot has changed since. His father figure Alex Ferguson is no longer there, and nor too is Carlos Queiroz. You cannot sign Ronaldo for what he was and what you remember, but for what he will go on to be. There is a reason why you should never go back.
If this transfer is indeed an exercise in willy-waving, United would be wary of going over Mourinho’s head. He is a coach who has excelled in his second season at various clubs, but also a man who demands total buy-in from players, coaching staff and the club’s hierarchy. Recruiting a star player without Mourinho’s say so is unlikely to cause anything other than deep fissures to appear in the club’s relationship with its manager. That is a problem that even Mendes, with a finger in every pie, might struggle to smooth over.
5) Are they learning the lessons from Zlatan Ibrahimovic?
You cannot doubt the impact of Ibrahimovic at Old Trafford last season, but there is also no denying that Manchester United became overly reliant on his brilliance. There is an argument that Ibrahimovic’s ability to create a goal out of nothing actually stymied United’s general attacking creativity. ‘Look for Zlatan’ became the mantra.
“There’s not a lot wrong, the performances are good and defensively we look strong. It’s just that concentration in front of goal and just that over-reliance, really, on Ibrahimovic,” said Ryan Giggs in April. “He’s the centre-forward, but you need goals to come from everywhere, be it the wide men, midfielders, or even the defenders chipping in at set-pieces.”
If United’s season actually suffered for having a striker that demands the ball at all times and thus becomes the centre of attention, that’s hardly likely to change if their pursuit of Ronaldo is successful. He guarantees two things: Goals and exposure.
There may be nothing wrong with designing your attacking strategy around a forward who has scored more than 50 times in six of his last seven seasons, but there are those in Madrid who believe that Real could be better without Ronaldo, if it allows others to flourish. Given that he turns 33 next February, Manchester United must be aware of the same issue. Do they really want another ageing target man-style striker who scores regularly but becomes the sole prong in attack?