Of all the former players to deem unbefitting of the status of a Manchester United player, Daley Blind was a peculiar choice.
Perhaps Ed Woodward was intent on divorcing United from past strategies and Blind was a Dutch signing signed by a Dutch coach. The irony is Woodward retained Louis van Gaal’s opposition scout, the Dutchman Marcel Bout, United’s incumbent head of global scouting.
If we were to do a rundown of the United AD (after dominance)’s recruitment hit-rate, then Blind would be a top-tenner. Blind exceeded expectations next to Chris Smalling in the often soulless 2015-16 campaign, his lack of physical prowess offset by his intelligence. Blind pocketed Romelu Lukaku, was United’s rock in their last domestic double over Liverpool and helped prevent Manchester City from scoring in either of that season’s derbies.
There was some recent revisionism of Blind among the online fanbase, prompted by a podcast interview he gave in which he outlined his merits as a centre half in the Premier League and claimed he ‘succeeded’ in England.
United still finished fifth and, yes, Blind’s sale in 2018 was entirely justified. He played 17 times in 2017-18 and his most complete performances for United were at left-back, long before Luke Shaw responded to his wake-up calls. United have signed two centre halves in the three summers since.
Woodward retrospectively concluded Blind, elegant and with a dash of Dutch arrogance, somehow did not fit the criteria of a United addition. This view emerged in late 2019, sandwiched between the arrivals of Daniel James and Odion Ighalo. Neither were United material.
Blind lacked an X-factor. Cristiano Ronaldo is a show-stopper to trump an X-Factor winner. Woodward still coos about watching Ronaldo, while sat in the leather-padded seat at the Emirates, vanquish Arsenal in the 2009 Champions League semi-final.
That Ronaldo falls well outside United’s age range for a preferred target and represents the ultimate marquee move they have deliberately eschewed risks regression with their strategy. It is almost perverse to bracket Ronaldo and ‘regression’ but United’s recruitment spiel was supposed to be gospel and they just have torn pages out of their own book.
Nobody at United would dare to admit it but Ronaldo is back in red because he was prepared to don blue. Had United stood by as one of their greatest players was paraded at City Square with Badly Drawn Boy strumming along and Ricky Hatton waving an inflatable banana, there was genuine concern that it could risk fan unrest of a Super League scale.
The Ronaldo deal is not risk-free and comes with caveats. Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford were once fancifully seen as the heirs to Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, and now they must bow to the king. United are top-heavy, their midfield is imbalanced and their manager is ignoring internal solutions to address it.
It is not brainless to question the merits of United abandoning protocol to secure a transfer they had planned on completing eight years earlier.
What would the odds have been, a week before deadline day, on United re-signing Ronaldo and selling Daniel James for £25(TWENTY-FIVE)million to Leeds? What United supporter would have rejected that outcome? None. The ghost of Bill Fotherby may be lurking in the Elland Road boardroom.
Ronaldo is the player of the century who outscored Lukaku in Serie A last season and every renowned goalscorer at the European Championship. Edinson Cavani, previously United’s standout striker, is seemingly capable of starting one game per week and spent more time in Montevideo than Manchester in pre-season. Signing Ronaldo has also weakened a rival (City). There were PR incentives, but it is a move that has undeniable merit.
United should have also sought special dispensation to change Martial’s squad number after his performance at Southampton. Martial undermines United’s signing strategy; a talent they overspent on, sided with over a manager, and then remunerated. He has had two good seasons in six for United and his equaliser last week against Ukraine was his second goal for France – and first since January 2016.
Barring a rousing revival, United must look to actively sell Martial next year, for he does not possess a mentality remotely comparable to Ronaldo and is never going to. He turns 26 in December. Ronaldo still had one Ballon d’Or at 26.
Ronaldo will weed out others. United wanted a superior right-back than Aaron Wan-Bissaka in the summer and it does not augur well that Donny van de Beek appears to only relish media activities that can be controlled. Jadon Sancho has had a checkered year in the England set-up and endured an underwhelming August. Another of Ronaldo’s new teammates is too thin-skinned to succeed at United and should have been shipped out years ago.
Ronaldo has the sculpted shoulders to carry the pressure of making his homecoming a success and he has already blown Lionel Messi out of the water in their publicity duel. Ronaldo has moved to a competitive league and a storied club. Messi has sullied his ‘pure’ image by joining state-owned Paris Saint-Germain.
Yet Ronaldo cannot be as confident of significant success as Messi is in Paris, where he was one of three Champions League winners to be paraded at the Parc des Princes. Gianluigi Donnarumma does not have a Champions League winners medal but is a recent European Championship triumphant and ended it the player of the tournament.
The United squad is success-starved and lacking winners. They have not had this many world-class players since Ronaldo’s glory years and others have the potential to reach that ceiling. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has overseen structural improvement, as well as at recruitment level and the playing style, yet it is disconcerting his mismanagement was at its most glaring last season in the major cup defeats to Leicester and Villarreal.
Ronaldo craves a sixth Champions League and United have reached the quarter-finals once in the last ten years. Blind went further with Ajax in 2019.