What Cristiano Ronaldo could look like under Erik ten Hag

Prospective Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag will have an important job on his hands to fix this team. One of the most interesting aspects of his appointment will be the role that Cristiano Ronaldo has at the club during his tenure.

According to many reliable journalists, it looks like Manchester United’s search for their permanent managerial position is now at the closing stages, with Ajax manager Erik ten Hag expected to take over. Reports say that he will have a three year contract with the club, with an option to extend for a further year.

The 52-year-old manager is expected to have a busy summer with regards to a squad overhaul. Ralf Rangnick has made his opinion on the squad clear, claiming that it is “obvious” that the club need a rebuild. One of the main priorities for United in the summer is going to be a striker, as relayed by the well-respected Laurie Whitwell.

What does this mean for Cristiano Ronaldo?

The 37-year-old striker has won five Ballon d’Or’s and is one of the greatest to ever grace the game. However, despite still producing great moments for the club, most recently with his hat-trick against Norwich City, Ronaldo is heading in a downwards trajectory, which is natural.

He might not be at the level that he once was — which is a level that only one other human has been able to reach — but the season has still been one where Ronaldo has continued to prove his doubters wrong.

The Portuguese is one of the few United players who can hold their head high this season for their actions on the pitch. His six Champions League goals were crucial for the club in their road to the round-of-16 and his latest two hat-tricks in the Premier League against Antonio Conte’s Tottenham and Norwich have kept the Reds in the race for the top four.

He isn’t the problem but neither the long term solution to the club’s striker situation. It is likely that the veteran sticks with the side for another season, even if they do not finish in the top four. However, it is fairly unknown how Erik ten Hag will utilise and appreciate Ronaldo.

Ten Hag did conduct an interview in November 2017 where he was in the final months of his time at FC Utrecht. The Dutchman was extremely complimentary about the then Real Madrid superstar, who was months away from completing the ‘three-peat’ in the Champions League.

“Take Cristiano Ronaldo. His heading capabilities, his jump, his timing. That takes thousands of hours of training and practice, like with his free kicks and kicking technique.” Ten Hag began. “He’s so talented but he constantly demands the best out of himself. That is the difference with the subtop. But if we are subtop, we can distinguish ourselves from the level below us, by doing the same at our level.”

It seems clear that the manager appreciates Ronaldo’s work ethic on and off the pitch. That is something that is still apparent in his game now and in possession it’s likely that the forward would be a great fit under Ten Hag. However, without the ball there will need to be improvements in his game, especially in his positioning, awareness and willingness to press in the final third.

This is a huge question mark under Ronaldo’s name despite the great attacking numbers that he’s still putting up at his age. However, it remains to be unseen how he would look under a better zonal pressing structure under Ten Hag.

The club needs to look forward and bring a young striker in who is ready both for now and the future. With Anthony Martial expected to hand in a transfer request at the end of the season and Edinson Cavani leaving in the summer, a new striker should join the club with a plan not only to be the leading force up front for the years to come but to provide competition for Cristiano Ronaldo next season.

But for now, The prospect of watching the 37-year-old striker under a functional system under Erik ten Hag is a scary thing for opponents after watching him still thrive and net 21 goals in a dysfunctional team.

This does not mean that United should build around the aging forward, who will likely leave in the following summer. But instead be a part of a functioning team, he doesn’t have to be the main man.

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