Originally published by Pick Our Team on February 27 2013.
Like the nostalgic laments of ex-lovers still pining for their former comforts, Viva Ronaldo continues to be sung from the match day stands. For those who cherished the Portuguese winger without giving themselves away to the cult that surrounds him, hearing his name sung while others still at the club play and graft for the shirt can be a sorry and unfortunate situation.
While the backing of a former player isn’t something to discredit, it’s difficult to understand the continued power of the love-in. Ronaldo never sacrificed himself for the cause; never propagated a familiarity with the ordinary fan; was hardly a leader or progressive figure on-the-pich like Cantona or Keane: he was however a very good player to watch who won matches with great goals. But shouldn’t there be more to all of this than jilted hunger for a one-man glory factory?
It’s easy to forget the baggage Ronaldo brings to a club. For him to prosper the team’s system must become more specialised, with other players forced to pick up the defensive duties and workload his talent elevates him above. In the final days of his first stint at Old Trafford, this specialism saw United’s game plan reduced to little more than ‘give the ball to Ronaldo’, a plan which, when faced with poor form, or a side willing and able to muzzle him, saw the team’s approach became extremely one-dimensional and predictable.
The United of today are very different to the one Ronaldo left. His former hunting partner Wayne Rooney is no longer the game’s living monument to the hero worker of social realism. Slowed by age, the Englishman’s game has developed. His output has been tempered, some may say tamed, and he has become a better-rounded player of vision and skill. He now uses his ability to create for others rather than just run for them.
Following Ronaldo’s departure Sir Alex was forced to reshuffle his squad, shifting to a more collective ethos. The arrivals of Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa this season felt like the next logical steps in this new vision of co-operative play and teamwork. While van Persie has finally replaced the fear factor of having another top-level player in the starting eleven, he is an exceptionally generous footballer who enjoys assisting teammates as much as he does scoring goals. Kagawa too was purchased to build on the burgeoning communal passing play promised by the likes of Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck.
United are now a team able to ask far more questions of their opponents by sharing the play-making and attacking burden. Parachuting Ronaldo into this squad, funded by a colossal Chevrolet sponsorship package, could well interrupt this trend towards dynamic, devolved football. After all, during his time in Madrid, Ronaldo has become only more selfish and egotistical; qualities rather than flaws that have been demanded of his style of play by the pressures of being Real’s very own Messi.
Such a second coming is a dream shared by many, but the harsh reality is that unless Cristiano can become more selfless, his return would likely be a regressive, backwards step for an exciting United team no longer reliant on individuals alone.
Hopefully, with the success of the belated first major airing of Oh oh oh it’s Carrick at the weekend against QPR, United’s singing section will be looking to appreciate the progress that has been made over the last four years rather than hark back to a former golden boy.