Soccer

Does CR7 Help Or Hurt?

Cristiano Ronaldo
Oli Scarff / AFP

Picture this: it’s a Wednesday evening in the middle of October. The scene is Old Trafford and the stadium is packed. The Champions League match featuring Manchester United vs. Atalanta is coming to a close. The score sits even at 2-2, and every Red Devil fan in the stands just witnessed their team bounce back after being down two goals at the half.

But the pressure for an actual win is high. Rumors of the head manager being sacked are brewing with fury. It would not be enough to end the game in a draw. Man United just needs one…more…goal…

This is a real event, folks. This is exactly what happened earlier this week when Cristiano Ronaldo rose (literally) to the challenge and made a perfectly timed header from Luke Shaw’s cross in the 81st minute. The header was the winning goal for United and secured the team’s unexpected, but desperately-needed, comeback.

But wait, this is a song and dance we’ve all seen before. This wasn’t the first time, or the first team, that Ronaldo has had to come to the rescue for. This is Mr. Champions League himself. Ronaldo has already bailed out United twice now in the Champions League. He’s only been with the team this season for less than two months.

So, despite all this, why is there still so much controversy to his name? Why has Ronaldo still been consistently labeled as a “problem player” or a “team ruiner”?

Does having Cristiano Ronaldo on your roster actually help you as a team, or does it hurt?

To begin to figure that out, let’s start by taking a look at the team where Ronaldo just came from…

CR7 & Juventus – The Beginning

Rewind real quick to July 2018. Cristiano just signed a four-year contract with Juventus, shocking much of the football world in the process. He left behind his glittering career at Real Madrid in search of a “brand new challenge”. He chose the giant Italian club for their ambitious pitch of aiming to win a Champions League title for the first time since 1996.

On a personal level for him, it wasn’t too bad of a move. In just 61 appearances, Ronaldo became the fastest player to score 50 goals in Serie A. He was the league’s top goal scorer for the 2020/21 season (29) and was also named Player of the Year for Juventus during his very first season at the club.

And you want to talk about Champions League comebacks? Every Juventus fan in the world refers to that one specific 2019 CL home match against Atletico Madrid as THE comeback, for it was a match where a fired up Ronaldo took his anger out on a dazed Atletico squad by scoring a spectacular hat trick, preventing Juve from being eliminated in the Round of 16.

CR7 & Juventus – The Middle

But despite the memorable magic of that night, the team results in the CL as a whole painted a much different picture.

During Ronaldo’s first season, Juventus were eliminated in the quarter-finals of the Champions League by Dutch club Ajax. In his second season, Lyon were the surprise club to hand Juve elimination in just the Round of 16. And then in his third, Juve were eliminated once again in the Round of 16, this time by Porto.

To be fair, Ronaldo did have to play under three different managers during his three year stint at Juve. Three different managers whose tactics were nothing alike. But still, speculation began to swirl about the team’s dynamics and who really was to blame for Juve’s unexpected shortcomings. Especially after the controversial sacking of Maurizio Sarri.

Suddenly, the Juventus fanbase found themselves divided. While some fingers were pointed at the club’s execs for not bringing in the right set of players to support Ronaldo, the rest blamed Ronaldo himself on pure speculation of ruining the team’s chemistry with his supposed ego.

After a rocky third season at Juventus under club legend Andrea Pirlo (who was also sacked), Ronaldo and his camp suddenly became mum. Not a word was spoken all summer about CR7 coming back for his fourth and final year of his contract, despite the constant reassurance from the Juve front.

CR7 & Juventus – The End

As we all know now, Cristiano Ronaldo made another shocking departure, but this time his decision came last minute. Something a few of his Juventus teammates did not seem to appreciate. Speaking to DAZN just earlier this week, Juventus captain Giorgio Chiellini admitted, “Ronaldo left on August 28, it would have been better for us if he had left earlier. We paid something for it, a little bit of a shock, we paid something for it in terms of points. If he had left earlier we would have had time to prepare better.”

Fellow veteran Leonardo Bonucci spoke further on the matter last month, but confessed that the Juve locker room might’ve been too dependent on Ronaldo. “This was the thing, the idea that one player, even the best in the world, could guarantee Juventus victory. We began to fall a little short in our daily work, the humility, the sacrifice, the desire to be there for your team-mate day after day. Over the last few years, I think you could see that.”

CR7 & Juventus – The Verdict

What went wrong with the CR7 + Juventus experiment was the way Juventus went about it. The club only had eyes for the Champions League (which is not a bad objective to have), but their solution to this objective was the “quick fixes” approach. If you can’t beat ’em, buy ’em, which is exactly what they did when they signed both Ronaldo and Matthijs de Ligt in back to back seasons after each player eliminated Juve in the CL with their former teams, Real Madrid and Ajax.

But quick fixes are just that. If the ship is sinking, plugging a few holes here and there may keep you afloat for a bit, but you’ll never make it to shore. Ronaldo may be (over) confident, but he is an intelligent player and knows himself well. Sensing only a few years left to his career, he saw the water rushing in and decided to jump ship. Any sports player with a good dose of ambition and in the same age bracket as him would have done the same.

Final CR7 Verdict – Jury Still Out

But is Ronaldo’s return to Man United also a quick fix? Paul Merson said it best to Sky Sports: “Manchester United have brought all these players in and you’re left scratching your head as to where Solskjaer fits them all in.”

“Hand on heart, would Manchester United have gone and got him [Ronaldo] if Manchester City weren’t linked? Was Ronaldo even going to City, or was he just playing them to get back to United? I’m not 100 per cent sure Solskjaer wanted Ronaldo there, I may be wrong, but his decision to leave him out against Everton told me all I needed to know.”

Only time will tell what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s exact vision for his current squad is. If he can motivate Ronaldo and place him correctly, having Ronaldo will most certainly help. The comebacks and goals he provides prove it. But if that team becomes too reliant or lacks a smart long-term approach (as with Juventus), Ronaldo will become a weight that most teams simply cannot carry. In which case, having him will hurt.

Managing Ronaldo does require paying more attention to the details, but until some form of evidence is provided, or more teammates decide to speak out, we will never know for sure if CR7 is a menace in the locker room or only thinks about himself. Football fans sometimes forget we are all just running on pure speculation.

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