Cristiano Ronaldo wants to leave Manchester United. But nobody wants Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo wants to leave Manchester United. He wanted to leave before manager Erik ten Hag benched him for Monday’s huge game against Liverpool. and before the two humiliating defeats that preceded it. He wants to leave because, according to widespread reports, he wants to play in the Champions League, at a club that can match his ambitions.

There is, however, one particularly inhibiting problem for soccer’s biggest celebrity: No such team seems to want him.

Ronaldo informed Manchester United of his desire on or before July 2. There was also a lucrative offer from an unnamed club in Saudi Arabia, which Ronaldo, of course, turned down. There has been none of anything resembling a Champions League contender.

Because Ronaldo, at 37, is no longer the winner he once was. He remains a ruthless goalscorer but has been either unwilling or unable to lead the type of defensive press that increasingly defines modern football. He is an undervalued asset on an astronomical salary whose stature and corresponding ego now outweigh his abilities, to the detriment of his club.

United now seem to understand all this. It was better without Ronaldo on Monday and it can continue. Ten Haag has publicly backed him, but privately, according to reports, the club are willing to let him go.

United, however, have simply realized what most of their superclub peers have been doing for a long time.

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When reports of Ronaldo’s transfer request emerged in early July, they came accompanied by lists of potential suitors. Chelsea and Bayern Munich were initially mentioned. PSG, Atletico Madrid, Inter Milan and AC Milan have since hit the headlines. Borussia Dortmund were supposed to enter the fray last week.

But almost always, and uncharacteristically, those clubs have actively distanced themselves from Ronaldo – in some cases publicly. Bayern CEO Oliver Kahn told Germany’s Kicker that “as much as I rate Cristiano Ronaldo as one of the best, a transfer would not fit our philosophy.”

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 22: Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United looks on during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool FC at Old Trafford on August 22, 2022 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Cristiano Ronaldo played just five minutes off the bench in Manchester United’s 2-1 win over Liverpool on Monday. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke called a move for Ronaldo “a charming idea” but he said “there has been no contact between the parties involved”.

At Atletico Madrid, fans unveiled a blunt banner — “CR7 NOT WELCOME” — as club president Enrique Cerezo confirmed they had nothing to worry about. “I don’t know who invented the Cristiano story,” Cerezo said, “but I’ll tell you it’s practically impossible for him to come to Atletico Madrid.”

Reports from other countries, meanwhile, hinted at who the inventor might be. PSG and the two AC Milan giants have ‘rejected’ Ronaldo after the offer was made to them — not by Manchester United, but by his agent.

This agent, Jorge Mendes, is the most powerful in world football and the main factor of interest through the media. Over the years, countless agents have leaked fabricated or embellished stories to incite or accelerate bidding wars for their players. It’s not clear if that’s what’s happening here or where the buzz around Ronaldo came from, but the dots can be connected.

Noise, however, cannot drown out many immutable truths. Ronaldo is 37, he will be 38 by the end of the season. He is reportedly the highest paid player in England. In his last two seasons, he has scored goals, but hasn’t done much without the ball, and therefore hasn’t contributed to the win. In 2021, he was part of the first Juventus team to deliver the Serie A title in 10 years. In 2022, United dropped to sixth place.

At his age and on an eight-figure salary, he’s almost certainly not worth a transfer. According to Transfermarkt data, no team paid a player over 35 this summer, and no team had ever paid more than $2.5 million for a non-keeper of that age until United shelled out $16.5 million dollars for Ronaldo last summer. The Red Devils are surely regretting it now.

He’s also not worth his wages, and so unless he’s willing to take a massive pay cut, or United are willing to eat a chunk of that salary to push him out, or Mendes can exercise his power, Ronaldo and the group is stuck in a strained marriage without its old magic.

Which is not to say Ronaldo can’t or won’t help United during the remainder of his contract – which expires next summer, although there is an option for a further year. Ten Hag scored that point after a thrilling 2-1 win over Liverpool in which Ronaldo contributed little. “We have a team and we have a way of playing, a style and a game plan,” said the Dutch coach, and on Monday Ronaldo didn’t fit in either. But Ten Haag continued, “Saturday [at Southampton] it could be different.”

There will be games, in other words, in which United need a goal or perhaps a savior and Ronaldo answers the call.

But of course Cristiano Ronaldo, of all people, doesn’t see himself as a role player.

He wants something more, something and someone better.

Nobody better than United, however, wants him — nor should they.

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