There are many traditions in the world of football. At one time it was Brazil winning the World Cup. Not so long ago it was Manchester United at least challenging for the title. But now in this spectacular transfer obsessed age we live in, there is one tradition that we have all come to know and, not really love. The Ronaldo homecoming rumours.
Look in most newspapers and on pretty much all news feeds, and you will see that United are clear favourites to re-sign Cristiano Ronaldo following his £80 million transfer to Madrid back in the summer of 2009.
And after his impressive haul at United that included three Premier League titles and a Champions League win, it’s not hard to see why these rumours make United fans a little bit giddy. There’s an emotional connection there. We saw a scrawny teenager from Portugal develop into one of the best players the club has ever had. But what if the transfer rumours were wrong (just imagine it) and Ronaldo didn’t return to Manchester. Would it be so disastrous? I don’t think so.
Hear me out. I know Louis van Gaal is screaming out for a goalscorer, and nobody scores goals better than Ronaldo. An amazing 233 goals in 211 Real appearances proves that. But there is one other name who seems to be permanently linked with the Red Devils – Gareth Bale. This seems to be the source of so many debates – “Who would you rather have, Bale or Ronaldo?”
Both have positives and negatives. One of the most obvious differences between the two is age. Ronaldo is pushing 31 while Bale has not long turned 26. While I accept that the Portugal captain appears superhuman, and will no doubt be able to play at a high level for years to come, time will inevitably catch up with him sooner than the Welshman. Is longevity better than instant impact and emotional connections?
Another case for United signing Bale ahead of his Madrid teammate is the differences in their attitudes towards defensive duties. While both players are clearly noted for their attacking prowess, it must be remembered that the United boss likes all of his players to share the workload, regardless of their position. Wingers should be able to track back. Strikers should be able to tackle. This is one area Bale comes out on top. According to WhoScored, so far this season Bale has racked up an average of 1.7 defensive actions per game, while Ronaldo is behind with an average of 1.1. The Welsh winger’s past as a left-back is also something United will value – defensive capabilities in a winger is a valuable asset, just ask Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia.
Having already established that Van Gaal is a keen proponent of the team ethos, would Ronaldo fit in at the current Manchester United? His individual brilliance is undeniable, but questions will be asked whether his style suits United’s style. At Real, he has almost had a team built around him, while at United he would need to be built into a team. A team that is more concerned with possession and patience (the highest possession in the league this season) than pace and power (eight in the table for most dribbles per game). And yes, before anyone screams at their screen, I realise Bale’s game is pretty much all pace and power too. But it seems more plausible to adapt Bale to suit Van Gaal’s system, than to adapt Van Gaal’s system to suit Ronaldo.
So after numerous national newspapers this week quoted David Beckham as saying: “I’d never advise any player to not return to Manchester United”, maybe this long tradition of ‘Ronaldo to Old Trafford’ headlines will finally bear fruit. But maybe it would benefit the club more if those headlines read ‘Bale to Old Trafford’.
Though there is just one glaring downfall to United signing the Welshman: well, he’s just not Ronaldo, is he?