Cristiano Ronaldo wants to leave Manchester United according to reports.
To the surprise of no one, the eternally ambitious and utterly impatient Ronaldo asked Man Utd to consider selling him should a good offer come in during the summer transfer window. This news came after a week where talk was abound that the likes of Chelsea and Bayern Munich were interested in securing his services.
Ronaldo joined Man Utd for a second time a year ago in a flurry of emotive social media posts speaking of a homecoming, when the more cynical approach would be that he simply picked the team with the biggest media profile that would have him and then spun a nice story to make it look like an emotional decision (turning down a move to Manchester City).
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But as Man Utd were utterly abysmal in 2021/22 (in part because they shunned their successful squad rebuild to sign a 36-year-old poacher who couldn’t play football the way they wanted to) and finished outside of the top four, there is no Champions League football for Mr. Champions League to raise his game for in 2022/23. So now he wants to leave home again.
On the other hand, can you blame him? He’s 37 years old now, doesn’t have many years left at the top and would like to spend his last few years playing in the Champions League while Man Utd are very much in a rebuild, looking to reconstruct their side around the philosophy of new manager Erik ten Hag.
For their part, Man Utd have neglected to look this gift horse in the mouth and insist that they will not sell Ronaldo, a player physically incapable of playing at the intensity that Ten Hag will demand from them every single game.
But what if Ronaldo digs in and forces an exit? He has a massive media profile and the world’s best agent on his side, what’s more Man Utd wouldn’t want to keep such an unhappy player during Ten Hag’s first season.
Sure, they’d save a tonne on wages, but what about that hole he’d leave atop the pitch? For all his flaws, Ronaldo was Man Utd’s top scorer last season, so they’d have to replace his goals before they could think about other qualities they’d like to add.
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We’ve come up with a list of names who could replace Ronaldo, divided into two groups:
The winger option
What Man Utd need to replace Ronaldo is a forward who can score goals, but with Marcus Rashford on the books they might already have someone capable of doing that at striker. Rashford’s movement off the ball has always been one of his best weapons and so re-converting him into a striker could be a smart solution, meaning that the new forward could actually be a winger to come in and fill that problematic right-wing position that Man Utd have had trouble filling for years.
The Ajax winger has been understandably linked with Manchester United, given that he played under Ten Hag for Ajax winning back-to-back Eredivisie titles and the KNVB Cup.
Antony is a dynamic and intoxicating winger who excels off the dribble, completing 85/149 in two Eredivisie seasons under Ten Hag. At just 22 years old he has time on his side to improve and, of course, he already has full understanding of the kind of football Ten Hag wants to play.
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After failing to really impress with Bournemouth, Arnaut Danjuma took La Liga and the Champions League by storm with Villarreal. He’s primarily a left-winger but has proven himself a deadly goalscorer at the highest level, and with Jadon Sancho’s ability to play both flanks that shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
As Villarreal powered their way through Juventus and Bayern Munich all the way to the Champions League semi-finals, Danjuma bagged six goals along the way. That may not sound like an impressive number but recall he was playing for Villarreal, a side outgunned by most opponents and playing a defensive style besides that. Still, Danjuma was effective, and likely could be in Manchester too.
All the hype is on Antony but it’s another Eredivisie winger that Man Utd should really be looking at: PSV’s Cody Gakpo. The left-winger just had his breakout season, scoring 12 times in the Eredivisie.
In the last two seasons of Eredivisie football, Gakpo has completed 129/206 take-ons, only two men have managed more. In that time he’s also created 100 chances, scored 19 goals and assisted 16 too. He’s itching to explode on the world stage and Man Utd coached by Ten Hag could be the perfect destination for him.
The striker option
On the other hand, Ronaldo is basically a striker these days. Wherever he plays on the field the shape ends up looking like a front two with him playing off a No.9 – except at Man Utd he had no true No.9 and while Rashford could be reconverted, he doesn’t fit the mould of a strong attacking pivot. Ten Hag used Sebastian Haller or Kasper Dolberg in this role at Ajax, and so maybe to replace Ronaldo they could sign a true No.9 to lead the Man Utd line?
Brentford’s brilliant season in 2021/22 owed a lot to Ivan Toney’s brilliant scoring. The Englishman bagged 12 times in his first-ever Premier League campaign and has been linked to a host of clubs as a result.
He would be a more low-key signing than expected, but Toney has really hit his peak form now, impressing in League One, then the Championship and finally the Premier League. Next up, Europa League with Man Utd?
Vangelis Pavlidis only moved to AZ a year ago but tore up the division with 18 goals, and 25 across all competitions. A muscular target man, Pavlidis has the potential to really grow under Ten Hag’s guidance, and with 3.69 aerial duels won per 90 minutes and 2.27 flick-ons attempted, he would certainly be a great pivot to bring others into play.
If Man Utd want a target man to lead the line, the gigantic Austrian Sasa Kalajdzic is a great shout. Standing 6’7″ he would give Man Utd a ridiculous amount of aerial power (he had 1.33 headed shots per 90 last season) while being useful on the ground as well. Kalajdzic plays for Stuttgart so it’s not inconceivable that Man Utd could sign him in addition to another forward and use the big man as a Plan B.
Why sign someone for Plan B when, with the right signing, a striker can be Plan A and Plan B rolled into one? Man Utd would have loved to sign Harry Kane but Tottenham Hotspur beating them to grabbing Antonio Conte basically ended that pipe dream, but why not the next best thing with Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin?
After all, Calvert-Lewin is the only player who has scored more headed goals than Kane has (13 vs 12) since the beginning of 2019/20. At 25 he’s no youngster, but was showing improvement each year until injuries devastated his 2020/21 season.
But now he’s fit again, he knows the country, knows the league – he could be the perfect player to lead the line. His power and aerial presence allow him to play the target man, but he’s mobile enough to get around and make runs in behind as Ten Hag would want.
Everton’s weaknesses as a team have denied him a good record in big games (although he’s scored at least once against all of the Big Six) but he has scored a World Cup-winning goal, bagging the winner as England won the 2017 U-20 World Cup in South Korea.
Calvert-Lewin is dogged and determined and dynamic enough to dominate at head of Ten Hag’s more menacing and mobile Man Utd side. Many would find him an underwhelming signing, maybe even a joke, but many said the same about Ajax signing Haller after a terrible year with West Ham. That worked out alright in the end, didn’t it?