Who can really afford Ronaldo? Project has failed but icon may not get his wish to leave Man United

That Cristiano Ronaldo wants to leave Manchester United isn’t a huge surprise. Who wouldn’t want to leave a club run as badly as they are?

However, the next bit of the equation is a bit trickier. Who will actually want him on wages of £15million a year? Even if United subsidise that, there aren’t many clubs in the world that Ronaldo would consider acceptable who can afford a 37-year-old vanity project.

And despite the fact the return to Old Trafford has been a thoroughly unhappy reunion, how can new United manager Erik ten Hag actually afford to let him go? He has no world-class centre forwards on which to count and little prospect of signing one.

Cristiano Ronaldo has requested that Manchester United let him leave this summer should the club receive a suitable offer

A well sourced report yesterday delivered the news that confirmed what everyone with eyes could see: the grand project to bring him home to United has been a failure.

Don’t go back is a maxim for a reason. Signed for around £20m last season on wages of around £500,000 a week, it always felt like this was just an ego trip for outgoing chief executive Ed Woodward, who had always longed to bring back the United icon, maybe as a way of counteracting the hostility he has been subjected to from fans.

And though it always seemed an ill-conceived idea, Ronaldo has done his best to defy gravity and make it work. In the worst Manchester United side in living memory for anyone under the age of 40, Ronaldo did score 24 goals, easily their top scorer, 18 of them in the Premier League.

The Portugal international believes he still has 'three or four years' left at the highest level

The Portugal international believes he still has ‘three or four years’ left at the highest level

There were even two glorious hat-tricks, against Tottenham and Norwich in March and April. But by then United were already a shambles, falling out of serious contention. In the crucial winter months of November, December, January and February, Ronaldo scored just five Premier League goals.

All of which places Ten Hag in a quandary. He knows that senior people at United had already concluded Ronaldo’s return had been a mistake, even before Ralf Rangnick arrived as manager. Under the German, the situation deteriorated with the coach completely unconvinced Ronaldo could cope with the demands of his pressing system and yet unwilling to drop him. On one of the few occasions that he did tell Ronaldo that he was trying someone else, for the derby against Manchester City in April, Ronaldo decided to fly to Portugal for the weekend to treat a hip flexor issue.

Ronaldo and Rangnick were at odds as to how training was best conducted and some players found the Portuguese a de-stabilising presence in the dressing room. And yet they couldn’t live without him as no one else was weighing with goals.

The 37-year-old forward's decision is driven by his desire to play in the Champions League

The 37-year-old forward’s decision is driven by his desire to play in the Champions League

Mason Greenwood was the player United were waiting to mature into the man to lead the line for the next ten years and if he were still around this would be an easier decision to make. However, he will be unavailable for the forseeable future, currently on bail having been arrested for rape and assault.

Marcus Rashford is seen as a wide player, Anthony Martial has broadly failed in the role and flopped on loan at Sevilla last season and Jadon Sancho is also a wide attacker.

United have already missed out on Darwin Nunez to Liverpool. Had they secured him, they might have been happy to drive Ronaldo to the airport in their eagerness to be partially rid of his wages. Yet now, with Erling Haaland going to Manchester City, Robert Lewandowski in the midst of securing a Barcelona move, Harry Kane settled at Spurs and Kylian Mbappe signing a new PSG deal, the best centre forwards in the world are taken. And even if they weren’t, they would be unlikely to choose United.

Chelsea co-owner Todd Boehly may be warned off a move for Ronaldo by boss Thomas Tuchel

Chelsea co-owner Todd Boehly may be warned off a move for Ronaldo by boss Thomas Tuchel

The market is extremely limited and United’s forward line is already thin, when you consider the quality that Liverpool, City and Tottenham have to call upon and the potential that Chelsea have should they complete the signing of Raheem Sterling and Raphina or Ousmane Dembele. Tammy Abraham at Roma might be an option for United but the range of clubs suitable for Ronaldo look vanishingly thin. 

He is said to want to play Champions League football. His agent met new Chelsea owner Todd Boehly last week but Tuchel, like Ten Hag and Rangnck, wants an energetic mobile striker who can press.

Boehly might enjoy the idea of landing the biggest name in football to announce his arrival but he is leaning heavily on Tuchel for advice and it’s hard to see the German being fooled by a nostalgia trip signing, as Woodward and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer were.

Bayern Munich are building their team around Sadio Mane, signed from Liverpool this summer

Bayern may need a centre forward when Lewandowski leaves but having just signed Sadio Mane seem unlikely to take on a 37-year-old whose wages would be way beyond what their normal budget. You don’t prepare to build your team around Mane and then throw in Ronaldo at the last minute. 

Neither Inter, AC Milan nor Napoli would have the finances and Juventus would be highly unlikely to take him back. He is of course, one of the greatest footballers of all time so it’s hard to say he wouldn’t improve any team. But he didn’t improve Juventus and he didn’t improve United. And he’s 37.

Right now the men of the moment are the likes of Mane and Mo Salah. The future is Haaland and Mbappe. Quite where Ronaldo fits in all this is unclear. Most likely it will be locked into a loveless marriage, playing out the last year of his contract unsatisfactorily at a lame United, because neither can afford the divorce.

New United boss Erik ten Hag has previously stated that he sees Ronaldo playing a key role

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