From the Sidelines: King returns to Old Trafford


Jordan Kim and Woojune Kim

Manchester United Fans still reminisce about the glorious days of Ronaldo wearing number seven in their red and white, awing everyone in the stands of Old Trafford. Since his departure in 2009, the club has failed to reach the lofty standards set during his meteoric rise to superstardom. So, when Ronaldo shockingly announced his return to Old Trafford, football fans were reminded of his first stint at United and wondered whether he could replicate his past success. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo’s homecoming has also induced mixed reactions among critics.


Jordan: All hail the return of the king.


“I’m not here on vacation.” These words from the legendary football star Cristiano Ronaldo carry weight. Though the 36-year-old’s nostalgic return to Old Trafford has been widely characterized as the final act to his amazing career, he begs to disagree. 


Ronaldo has repeatedly stated his resolve to eventually lift up another trophy for the Old Trafford fans. Not only does his attitude keep him focused as an individual, but his words impact the rest of the organization as well. Everyone in the locker room and the front office has now heard their leader’s message loud and clear: winning is the sole objective.


Putting aside Ronaldo’s zeal for victory, however, critics warn against expecting the firepower and physical dominance of the young number seven. With Ronaldo’s strong suit lying in his powerful knuckleballs and high headers, doubts exist as to whether he can retain his lethal skillset with the declining physical abilities that come with aging. 


Perhaps expecting Ronaldo to resemble his old self is unrealistic, but he still delivers by using a more refined style of play. As a young player, he was well-known for blasting long shots from outside the penalty box in an impressive display of raw power. But today, he uses his smooth ball control to approach the goal and finesses the ball perfectly around the goalkeeper’s outstretched hands. His methods may be different, but Ronaldo still has remarkable instincts for goal-scoring. 


Whether later critics will consider Ronaldo’s days in Manchester United a success, however, lies beyond the hands of just Ronaldo. Chemistry with star forward Bruno Fernandes and superstar Paul Pogba’s future with the club are still pieces of the puzzle that Manchester United must figure out. 


Woojune: Ronaldo’s return inhibits the growth of United’s young talent.


The truth is, Manchester United was doing fine without Ronaldo. They finished second in the Premier League last year and they finished runner-up in the Europa League, the second-most prestigious tournament in European football. Was the addition of another attacker truly necessary?


Ronaldo is certainly still a world-class goalscorer, but United already had an outstanding Portuguese creator of their own. Bruno Fernandes, midfielder on Ronaldo’s national team, has shown brilliant plays since his transfer to United in 2019. He has been awarded the Sir Matt Busby award for being United’s best player the past two years, and his 30 combined goals and assists were second in the league last year. 


The concerning part is Ronaldo’s chemistry with Fernandes. Fernandes relies on a style of play that is aggressive and risky, making key passes and applying pressure on the other team’s midfield. On the other hand, Ronaldo’s game has developed into that of a pure striker. He stays close to the penalty area and hungrily awaits an opportunity to pounce. 


If Fernandes is able to set Ronaldo up, there is no issue. But if Ronaldo’s demanding presence unnecessarily keeps the ball away from Fernandes, his talented creativity will go to waste. Manchester United also has a pair of young midfielders—Jaden Sancho and Mason Greenwood—who were expected to have a bigger role until Ronaldo came. Now, they will have to share time on the pitch with the veteran and cultivate court experience at a slower pace.


Ronaldo’s return is surely electrifying, but it may hamper United’s solid core of young players, preventing an effective progression of the team. If United manages to capture glory by winning the Premier League or the Champions League, no one will question Ronaldo’s transfer. But if they fall short again, questions must be asked regarding the signing of an aging star.