Football Features

A return to Spain or move to America? Where next for wantaway Cristiano Ronaldo

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:22, 26 July 2022

Cristiano Ronaldo wants to leave Manchester United.

The Portuguese forward has not said anything publicly yet but he declined to go on the club’s pre-season tour and his agent Jorge Mendes has been travelling around Europe taking meetings with every big club you can think of, trying to get him a deal.

Bayern Munich and Barcelona are two of the sides to have publicly said “thanks, but no thanks,” and the latest rumour has him linked with a return to Spain via a move to Atlético Madrid.

But which move would be the best for Ronaldo? We’ve had a look and come up with three options.

Dream: Chelsea

Chelsea have allegedly already said they weren’t too keen on Ronaldo, but since then they’ve looked anaemic in pre-season including a 4-0 humbling at the hands of Arsenal that had Thomas Tuchel befuddled.

And so, could the Blues return for Ronaldo to help solve their woes? It would make sense for them. After all, they need goals and Ronaldo is a man who scores goals. In abundance. Even in the worst Manchester United team in recent memory he still scored 18 times in the Premier League including plenty against Chelsea’s London rivals Spurs and Arsenal.

Moreover while he usually cannibalises the team’s goals, in Chelsea’s case it’s not a problem because no one really scores in any great numbers that would be effected by Ronaldo’s arrival. Well, maybe Jorginho would fade from relevance without the penalties, but besides that no one would miss anything and the biggest problem would be getting the No.7 shirt off beloved midfielder N’Golo Kanté.

Todd Boehly has been dying for a statement signing and Raheem Sterling nor Kalidou Koulibaly have scratched that itch. He tried for Raphinha, Jules Koundé and even Robert Lewandowski but Barcelona ate his lunch on all three occasions.

Well, not this time!

For Ronaldo the transfer is manna from heaven. He gets to stay in a league and culture that he knows and understands and play for a team where no one would question his status as the number one star and starter. He’d also be right back in the Champions League which is his main beef with staying at Manchester United.

Tuchel’s predilection for the 3-4-2-1 shape would allow Ronaldo to play in a team that doesn’t need him to press, but would supply him with lots of crosses to attack via Reece James and Ben Chilwell, with Raheem Sterling and Mason Mount as expert foils.

Financially, Ronaldo moving to London will only increase his already massive media profile, and related to that he’s a Nike athlete and would finally be back on a Nike team, meaning Chelsea could rake in the big bucks selling anything and everything with Ronaldo’s face on it. This is likely why Boehly wants the deal to be done too, as it really ticks all the boxes.

Perhaps it’s not quite as dreamy as Real Madrid – but that was a pure fantasy given what a great moment Los Blancos are in without the Portuguese. Similarly, Oliver Kahn’s “no” is not really undone because a bunch of Bayern lads started following Ronaldo on Instagram.

Chelsea is the dream, it has to be, and the Blues are 12/1 with Sky Bet to sign Ronaldo this summer.

Realistic: Atlético Madrid

Realistically, though, are Chelsea really going to make the move? And would Manchester United be alright with selling such a potent player within the Premier League, to a top four rival no less? It’s unlikely.

No, what seems much more realistic is that Jorge Mendes spends the rest of the transfer window unsuccessfully trying to push Ronaldo out to various clubs before, in the end, settling on the one Champions League club where he can effectively do what he wants: Atlético Madrid.

This wouldn’t be Ronaldo’s first choice; his image as a Real Madrid legend has already been dented by the club’s prosperity after his departure (they’ve won as many La Ligas in the three years he’s missed as they did in the nine years he was there) and joining their hated local rivals would be the nail in that coffin.

Moreover, Atleti fans don’t even want him, they’ve launched an online petition to oppose his signing.

Tactically this is also a poor fit, with Ronaldo being unable to press like Diego Simeone wants his players to. Of course Cholo would probably make an exception for a goal poacher as lethal as Ronaldo, and Luis Suárez showed how potent Atleti can be even with a “past-it” goal poacher on the scene, as he fired them to win La Liga in 2020/21.

Of course the one bonus here is the challenge, something Ronaldo is said to always seek out. Winning something with Atlético Madrid, especially with Los Blancos being defending Spanish and European champions, would be a huge feather in Ronaldo’s caps, and we know he’d love that. A little light to what is otherwise a dull but inevitable transfer (at 3/1 with Sky Bet).

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Wildcard: MLS

When Real Madrid won four Champions League titles in five years, Ronaldo always felt superior as he already had a Champions League win with Manchester United so was always one ahead of his peers. When they held a single finger up, he could hold two. When they had two, he had three, etc.

The count ended with him on five Champions League wins and the likes of Karim Benzema, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro on four. Except after last season they now all have five too, and importantly they won one without him.

Ronaldo’s desire to jump back ahead of his team-mates and draw level with the iconic Paco Gento’s record of six triumphs is supposedly what’s keeping him in Europe. But what if he realises the hopelessness of that situation?

What if, instead of desperately pawing at every big club in Europe, he sacked the whole continent off and went to the USA?

Ronaldo loves records, but forget Gento for a second and listen to this. Cristiano Ronaldo has 815 goals for club and country as a professional footballer. He’s close enough to legitimately scoring 1,000 career goals that he’d be a fool not to try.

However, going at a rate of 24 a season, as he scored for United in 2021/22, he’d need to play for another decade to do it. No, what he needs is a couple of those monster 40-50 goal seasons, and the only place that’s happening is in a league like MLS.

Imagine it, the first ever man to legitimately score 1,000 competitive career goals. That’s a truly historic achievement for someone who is as obsessed with scoring as Cristiano Ronaldo is. And doing it in the USA, a country bewitched by big numbers and statistical achievements, is even more fitting. Oh and hey, would you look at that, New York City FC and Inter Miami have free slots for Designated Players (i.e. players the clubs can spend over the salary cap to sign) and are in iconic cities too.

There’a also Los Angeles FC if he fancied eating Gareth Bale’s lunch again, or the Philadelphia Union if he wants to live in a city as psychotically obsessed with competing as he is. There’s even DC United where he would be managed by ex team-mate Wayne Rooney, and hell, turning DC United into winners would be a phenomenal achievement.

Sky Bet are offering odds of 40/1 for Ronaldo to sign for any MLS club in the summer transfer window.