Cristiano Ronaldo keeps on going at 35, and United have never replaced him

Cristiano Ronaldo turned 35 this week and he is showing no signs of slowing down at all.

He has 22 goals this season already for Juventus, including 19 in 19 Serie A matches. 10 of these goals have come in his last six games.

Ronaldo is a phenomenon, and while it is understandably impossible to replace a player like that, United have not even come close.

It was in 2009 that United sold Ronaldo to Real Madrid for £80 million. It seemed a little cheap at the time, although not a bad price, he went onto repay Real 10 times over.

He left Real in 2018 as a four-time Champions League winner for the club, to add to the one he earned with United in 2008. And he has gone onto win the Ballon d’Or six times.

United hung onto him as long as we could. His departure was inevitable yet crushing, but the real problem has been that we have not had a player remotely like him since.

Photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images

Pretenders

It was hoped that Ronaldo’s Old Trafford understudy Nani might step out of his shadow, and for a brief moment it looked like he may have been able to, before his form trailed off and he was eventually sold.

Antonio Valencia was bought with the Ronaldo money, but he was always just a functional winger rather than an exciting one.

This was the moment United should have struck to sign a world class replacement. A move for Valencia showed a distinct lack of ambition, from both Sir Alex Ferguson and the club owners.

In 2015 Memphis Depay arrived at Old Trafford hoping to be the next Ronaldo, and he had all the tools. After a prolific season in Holland he seemed ready to step up, and had the tricks. He just wasn’t ready.

Angel di Maria had talent, but not the heart, while Alexis Sanchez’s talent evaporated the moment he played the piano in his arrival video.

And so to 2020, and United’s wingers consist of speedster Dan James, and that’s it. James is a bright prospect, going through a rough patch, but he doesn’t need Ronaldo comparisons, and doesn’t deserve them either.

The one United player constantly likened to Ronaldo is Marcus Rashford. At times this seems forced by manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but his scoring record at the same age is superior.

The Mail reported in December that after 127 first team games each, Rashford had 37 goals to Ronaldo’s 34.

Ronaldo only really became prolific in the second half of his United spell, but there was some hope Rashford was enjoying a similar breakout season this year to the club legend’s 2007/08, netting 19 goals before his back injury.

Probably the only real way to replace Ronaldo, was to re-sign Ronaldo.

Juventus paid £84 million (100 million Euros) to buy him from Real in 2018. It was an excessive fee for a 33-year-old, but you have to say that with 40 goals and 10 assists in 50 games, he has been worth every penny.

With Ronaldo, this United team would probably be challenging at the top of the table. He’s that good, an irrepressible force.

Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images

Impossible, but United can still try

Obviously, replacing Ronaldo is impossible, but it also seems United barely tried. It took five years to sign a flair player, Angel di Maria, and then Memphis Depay a year later. Both flopped.

Last summer’s transfer business was unimaginative from an attacking perspective, and a new hero is needed.

Ronaldo’s Portugal international teammate Bruno Fernandes has a chance to become a hero at United now. He’s a very different type of player, but he can make United exciting again.

Getting him in was a big plus, and he can kickstart United’s attacking rebuild.

The club need to sign an attacking player with magic in his boots this summer, who can lift a crowd, and has a fearless attitude to match.

Add that, to Rashford and Fernandes, and this team might start to compete again.

Until then, Ronaldo’s outrageous figures and individual achievements are a credit to him, and serve to highlight the transfer failings at United since his departure 11 years ago.

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