Football Features

Who signs Cristiano Ronaldo if Manchester United let him leave? Grading every Champions League club by suitability

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 13:50, 17 August 2022

Cristiano Ronaldo wants to leave Manchester United, and now they finally might be about to let him.

Where previously the money-focused Glazer regime had shown no interest in letting their marketing megastar Cristiano Ronaldo depart the club, the Red Devils have been forced into a rethink after two humbling defeats in their first two Premier League games.

BBC Sport say there are those at the club who feel like Ronaldo’s departure would lift the mood around Old Trafford and help return the team to playing better collectively.

Meanwhile Ronaldo himself has taken to Instagram to claim that the truth will be revealed in two weeks (i.e. the close of the transfer window), which has prompted Manchester United fan, former player and Sky Sports broadcaster Gary Neville to speak up.

“Why does the greatest player of all time (in my opinion),” opens Neville – using the bracketed text to indicate he means Ronaldo and not one of the actual greatest players of all time like Pele, Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, Alfredo di Stefano or Johan Cruyff – before rightly questioning the Portuguese’s waiting period “have to wait two weeks to tell Manchester United fans the truth?”

“Stand up now and speak,” he goes on “the club is in crisis and it needs leaders to lead. He’s the only one who can grab this situation by the scruff of the neck!” Exhorts Neville, ignoring the fact that this situation, i.e. the terminal decline of Manchester United as a football team, was rapidly accelerated by Ronaldo’s arrival a year ago. And also ignoring the fact that Ronaldo has spent the entire summer asking to leave, including basically skipping pre-season until it would have been contractually problematic for him to do so.

Cristiano Ronaldo transfer specials: To sign for before 3rd September  Sky Bet
To stay at Manchester United

10/11

Chelsea 3/1
Sporting Lisbon 7/2
Atletico Madrid 8/1
Bayern Munich 20/1
Real Madrid 25/1
Borussia Dortmund 28/1
Napoli 28/1
Roma 33/1
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It’s unlikely Ronaldo heeds Neville’s call and seems more likely that the Red Devils would allow him to leave. But then the question becomes; where would Ronaldo go? Well, the Portuguese superstar has made no secret of his affection for the Champions League, and United not being in the Champions League is the main reason he wants to go. So he would have to join a team in Europe’s top competition.

But which team? We’ve looked at the 26 clubs already qualified , giving each a grade (A to F) to see which could be a fit for a man who, even at 37 years old, remains the greatest goalscorer in Champions League history.

Qualified teams:

Real Madrid

Running back to the club Ronaldo left in 2018 when they have won as many league titles in four years without him as they did in nine years with him, and when they just lifted the Champions League again – something he has failed to do since leaving the Santiago Bernabeu – might be too much humble pie for him to eat. Especially as Florentino Perez has already dismissed the notion in four words.

“Again? Thirty-eight years old,” the Real Madrid president said to fan who suggested he re-sign the club’s all-time top-scorer (450 goals).

It’s a poor fit on the field, too, given the rises of Vinicius and Rodrygo limit his options to start.

GRADE: F

Eintracht Frankfurt

The Europa League winners do not have the financial capacity to sign Cristiano Ronaldo, even though his pure goalscoring skills would probably be of use to Oliver Glasner’s high octane side.

GRADE: D

Manchester City

In their post-Kane desperation a year ago, City tried to sign Ronaldo. That didn’t work, and they’ve now got Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez, so why on earth would they want or need Cristiano Ronaldo? They need creators, and he’s not that.

GRADE: F

Bayern Munich

Having lost Robert Lewandowski you could forgive yourself for thinking Bayern would go for Ronaldo. And a deal was mooted, but quickly dismissed by the Bayern hierarchy due to Ronaldo being a poor fit with the club. And seeing the way that Bayern are playing an even more aggressive, positionally fluid approach this season under Julian Nagelsmann, you couldn’t even argue it’d be worth it tactically.

GRADE: E

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AC Milan

Milan don’t have the money to get Cristiano Ronaldo, and with Zlatan Ibrahimovic at the club they have no need for another galaxy-class ego. On the field this could work given his sheer goalscoring ability, but the off-field issues are too large to ignore.

GRADE: E

PSG

If there’s one club that could afford to carry Cristiano through 90% of their games, it’s PSG. With Kylian Mbappé wanting Neymar out of the club, United could probably do worse than swapping the Brazilian and the Portuguese.

For PSG, Ronaldo would just be a floating goal-poacher, ceding much of the attacking creativity in the final third to Mbappé while Leo Messi orchestrates things more from deep. Ronaldo was also Mbappé’s idol growing up so if there’s anyone the moody French maverick would do extra running for, it’d be the No.7.

Moreover the marketing potential for PSG uniting Messi and Ronaldo at one club would be through the roof. And even now in 2022, their games are still immensely compatible and Ronaldo couldn’t ask for a better supply line than Leo Messi through-balls.

One of few marks against this deal is the appointment of new sporting director Luis Campos, a man famed for signing up-and-coming wonderkids for peanuts and selling them for record-breaking fees (e.g. Anthony Martial and Nicolas Pepe). His presence, along with their summer deals so far, is a clear indication PSG are less open to Galacticos signings.

GRADE: B

Barcelona

He couldn’t play on the wing in Xavi’s system, only up front. So if there was a chance for this move to happen, it was before the Blaugrana spent €50m on Robert Lewandowski. There’s only ever going to be one veteran goalscorer at the club and honestly in 2022 the Pole is just a vastly superior player to the Portuguese.

GRADE: F

Liverpool

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Oh goodness, where to start? United would never sell to Liverpool and given his playing style and personal demands it’s unlikely Jurgen Klopp or the Anfield brass (who are indebted to analytics) would countenance it.

GRADE: F

Borussia Dortmund

They don’t have the financial capacity to sign Ronaldo, nor would he fit with their style of play.

GRADE: F

Inter Milan

Inter’s financial troubles and the recent return of Romelu Lukaku to play alongside Lautaro Martinez make this a non-starter.

GRADE: F

Marseille

Doesn’t make any sense except Ronaldo would love the worship he’d get from the Marseille faithful.

GRADE: D

Atlético Madrid

This would make sense only from a mentality perspective in that Diego Simeone is one of the few football managers alive that could match Cristiano Ronaldo’s uniquely macho competitive obsession. In terms of football on the field, Atleti are far too defensive to provide him the attacking support he needs and we know he can’t run the break either. The presence of Alvaro Morata does mean that they’re one of the few clubs who could actually provide him the perfect foil up-top, but unless Simeone commits to actual attacking, it wouldn’t work.

GRADE: C

Chelsea

Chelsea are a team who need a goalscorer. They need someone who can put the ball in the back of the net. However they also need someone who can play in an athletically demanding role, which isn’t something Ronaldo can do.

New owner Todd Boehly is said to have expressed interest in bringing Ronaldo to Chelsea, but Thomas Tuchel is supposedly not keen and you can see why. Ronaldo’s tactical profile would disrupt the team’s structure much in the same way Romelu Lukaku did last season.

You can see where he would fit, but someone with more mobility and a less distracting personality like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would probably be a better quick fix for the Blues.

GRADE: B

Bayer Leverkusen

They don’t have the financial capacity to sign Ronaldo, nor would he fit with their style of play.

GRADE: F

Napoli

Napoli have the fanbase to energise and sate Ronaldo’s ego, and they have the immense history that would entail a fitting farewell for him in Europe. They’ve also got a phenomenally athletic forward in Victor Osimhen to do the running Ronaldo cannot. He was reportedly offered to Napoli by Jorge Mendes earlier this summer but nothing came of it.

GRADE: B

Sevilla

Financially he would have to take a serious pay-cut to enter Sevilla’s price range but on the field this makes a degree of sense given that Julen Lopetegui’s men can do everything besides put the ball in the back of the net.

GRADE: C

Tottenham

Perhaps in a pre-Richarlison world, Tottenham could have been convinced to bring Ronaldo to North London (after all, Antonio Conte loves experienced pros) but even then there would have been no room for him as a starter. Now with Richarlison there it makes less than no sense for him to join Spurs.

GRADE: F

RB Leipzig

As shown by his difficulties giving Ralf Rangnick what he wanted, Ronaldo absolutely does not fit the stylistic profile of a RB Leipzig player. His individual brilliance notwithstanding, this move makes no sense.

GRADE: F

Juventus

A return back to Juventus, given they’ve replaced him with Dusan Vlahovic, seems impossible.

GRADE: F

Porto

Porto already have two great forwards and he’s a Sporting boy. No chance.

GRADE: F

Sporting

A perfect, gorgeous and glorious homecoming. He’d need to take a massive wage cut but for his boyhood club, he probably would. This wouldn’t be the best sporting fit but emotionally it’s beyond flawless. Sporting don’t even have anyone wearing the No.7 shirt at the moment!

GRADE: A

Ajax

His style of play runs contrary to every single idea that defines Ajax at a football club (besides winning) and he probably wouldn’t be a great fit for a side looking to redefine itself post-Ten Hag, but his former team-mate Edwin van der Sar is club CEO, so that has to count for something.

GRADE: E

Club Brugge

Not going to happen.

GRADE: F

Red Bull Salzburg

They don’t have the historic reputation or the money or the environment (see RB Leipzig above).

GRADE: F

Celtic

While the romantic notion of Ronaldo playing in green and white hoops (due to his Sporting roots) is real, this move is not likely to happen for both financial and sporting reasons.

GRADE: F

Shakhtar Donetsk

A complete non-starter given the unrest around Ukraine right now. Also the departure of the club’s Brazilians would hamper his adaptation process due to the language barrier.

GRADE: F

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