Even if the return of Ronaldo doesn’t prove to be a resounding success, the day of his re-signing will always be a memorable one. Personally speaking, I’d spent the preceding 72 hours doing my best to convince myself that I wasn’t bothered about his seemingly inevitable move to City. He’s 36, he’s obsessed with winning and he represents the exact opposite of United’s delayed gratification strategy of recruiting young players who’ll hopefully pay dividends in years to come. It made perfect sense for Ronaldo to go to City now, so there was no point getting wound up about it.
Instead, that fateful Thursday was absolutely brilliant. By lunchtime, those of us who keep half an eye on twitter at all times knew exactly what was occurring. It was a classic throwback to stealthy transfer deals of the past as the story quickly accelerated and it became clear he was heading back to OT. The fact City fans had spent the previous few days gleefully trumpeting his imminent arrival made it sweeter still. This was a classic triumvirate of shock, excitement and schadenfreude that rivalled Cantona’s signing in 1992. It all made for a gloriously entertaining afternoon in work as the story unfolded.
As the dust settles on the move, it looks like a masterstroke on face value. Shirt sales have increased, social media engagement numbers are through the roof and there’s no doubt Old Trafford is buzzing. In simple terms, watching Ronaldo patrol opposition penalty areas holds far more appeal than the prospect of Anthony Martial skulking around aimlessly for the next 2 years. Nevertheless, I can’t quite shake the feeling that something is off here. Was this signing motivated by a desire to improve the team or was it an attempt to quash dissent amongst the more fickle elements of the club’s fanbase?
I’d hazard a guess that most people reading this will be a little too invested in anti-Glazer sentiment to be silenced by the re-appearance of Ronaldo. The return of a beloved former player changes little. For many though, it appears the opposite is true. We shouldn’t underestimate how the scenes witnessed at the end of last season will have reverberated around the club’s corporate headquarters and prompted a major re-think. Despite hasty promises to engage with supporters, little has materialised beyond £3 bottles of Carling and some headline-generating player acquisitions.
I don’t think the club are even attempting to get the likes of you or I onside at this point. The hasty addition of Ronaldo appears to be aimed squarely at the influencer/fancam crowd who for a brief moment put on-field matters to one side and got a little bit political. Instead of debating Martial or Rashford, suddenly they were all adorned in Green and Gold, fully-focused on the cancerous ownership that continues to siphon millions out of the club’s coffers. What better way to banish a growing air of mutiny and revolution than to deliver a smiling Cristiano back to his spiritual home for a victory lap.
The club know how important it is to keep the influencer crowd onside. The numbers they engage with, particularly overseas, are unfathomably huge. The individuals themselves might lack credibility, they might not even be United supporters in certain cases, but they command a greater audience than most broadsheet journalists could ever dream of. It’s why they get press credentials and access to players, it’s why they’re seen on TV supposedly presenting the view of time-served United fans. They’re idiots, but they’re idiots with a lot of clout. They’re the main reason the club decided to bring Ronnie “home” at this precise point in time.
I don’t believe for a minute that anyone at the club began the summer with any intention of re-signing Ronaldo. If he’d have been heading for PSG rather than across town, do you think United would have made any overtures towards Mendes? I very much doubt it. Solskjaer appeared to suggest that the club had looked at the prospect of re-signing the player numerous times in the dozen years since he left. Again, this doesn’t really ring true. Why was there no attempt to re-sign him in 2018 when he left Madrid? I guess United were too focused on securing the priority signatures of Fred, Dalot and Lee Grant instead. Of course they were.
Ignoring Cristiano’s undoubted talents, once the decision was taken to retain Cavani for a further season, the last area of the squad that needed strengthening was up front. I know that Ronaldo offers guaranteed goals compared to the other contenders vying for a starting position, but it still seems frivolous to bring him in at the expense of a much-needed holding midfielder. Since Solskjaer took over, we’ve seen a dramatic improvement in acquisitions and squad development. Don’t get me wrong, of course it’s exciting and it may well turn out to be a roaring success. I’m just extremely sceptical of the rationale behind it; it seems a complete reversal of any long-term strategy the club had in place.
Predictably, rather than continuing to exert pressure on the Glazers, the focus of the YouTube contingent has shifted wholesale to Ronaldo. The Green & Gold being sported in May has been replaced with brand new replica shirts and any lingering frustrations are being directed towards the manager. The club probably exceeded their summer budget in securing Ronnie for the next 2 years, but given how the deal has extinguished all audible protest, clearly it’s money well spent. United’s legions of impressionable overseas fans have a new idol to post about and everyone is happy again.
It’s all about the clicks these days and Ronaldo guarantees millions of these. The club’s twitter account announced the deal on at least 5 separate occasions in the space of 3 weeks, to the point it was getting embarrassing. It’s that weird FIFA-inspired phenomenon where certain players have become greater commodities than clubs themselves. This is the audience that the club is attempting to court here, the type of fan who measures success in terms of big name signings and memeable reveals. We see it constantly with Pogba and Martial, it doesn’t matter how execrable the performance, there’s always a legion of online cultists to defend their chosen one and pour scorn on anyone pointing out obvious failings.
I appreciate that in raising these concerns, I may appear incredibly old and boring. That’s undoubtedly true. Perhaps I should place my brain in a jar and just go with it. Ronnie might go on to enjoy a miraculous Van Persie-style perfect season and inspire an unlikely title charge but I very much doubt it given the paucity of midfield options behind him. More likely, I’d suggest that when the novelty wears off we’ll start to see the deal for what it really is – a crowd-pleasing marketing tool designed to placate a justifiably angry fanbase. Viva Ronaldo, sure – though I suspect we might be the ones getting played here.
Copyright Red News – September 2021