Few would disagree with calling Cristiano Ronaldo, the man otherwise known as CR7, one of the greatest players of all time. Even the most ardent supporters of perpetual rival Lionel Messi acknowledge the Portuguese star’s greatness. But the sport’s all-time leading goal scorer has finally begun to show his age, a move to greener pastures now seems likely.
Ronaldo made a stunning return to Manchester United in 2021 and showed he still has what it takes to perform at the highest level. He bagged 24 goals for the Red Devils last season and finished third in the Premier League’s golden boot race with the club where he won his first Ballon D’Or.
This season has been played to a different tune. Ronaldo’s start has been disappointing to say the least and abysmal by the star’s sky-high standards. Netting only 2 goals in 12 appearances.
The goal drought has led to a dwindling role, regularly coming off the bench as a substitute. With frustration building and ever-increasing tension with Manager Erik Ten Hag, a major incident looked bound to occur. That incident has happened sooner rather than later. Ronaldo prematurely left the sidelines after remaining on the bench for most of United’s 2-0 win over Tottenham this morning. With two substitutions still available, Ronaldo didn’t give his manager the chance to get him involved and headed to the dressing room early in a petulant display.
Erik Ten Hag on Cristiano Ronaldo heading down the tunnel before the final whistle at Old Trafford ???? pic.twitter.com/QEOicibuHL— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) October 19, 2022
Manchester United legend and former captain Roy Keane criticised the club for their disrespectful treatment of the Portuguese legend. “I think United are showing disrespect to Ronaldo. He should have been let go before the transfer window,” said Keane. “You don’t hold on to Ronaldo to sit on the bench. He is one of the greatest players ever. It is just going to get uglier as the season goes on.”
Ronaldo already tried to force his way out of the club in the offseason as he was reportedly unhappy with the red devil’s direction and failure to qualify for the Champions League. CR7 had no interest in mentoring the next generation on a rebuilding team, he wanted to spend the final years of his career chasing trophies.
Ronaldo’s contract at Manchester United will expire at the end of this season, meaning he will be able to negotiate a new contract with other clubs from January 2023 and make the switch to a new team around June of next year. Although given recent performances and the star’s frustration with being kept on the bench in a minimised role, CR7 could force his way out of the club as early as the January 2023 transfer window.
At 37 years of age, Ronaldo’s ability to keep fit and maintain the ideal physique is not under scrutiny. CR7 has played around 50 games a year since he was a teenager and his body is showing no signs of slowing down.
The superstar still has plenty left in the tank, but his second stint at Manchester United looks like it will soon come to an end. So, where could one of the biggest names in the sporting world take his talents in the twilight years of his illustrious career?
The Best Shot at Success: Bayern Munich
German giant and perennial Champions League powerhouse Bayern Munich were rumoured to be interested in Ronaldo in the last transfer window and might give CR7 the best chance at returning to Champions League glory.
Robert Lewandowski, Bayern’s talisman and winner of FIFA’s best player award in 2020 and 2022, departed for Barcelona before the start of the season. Bayern are in need of a dominant striker to replace Lewandowski and Ronaldo seems like the perfect fit.
Bayern have won the German Bundesliga for ten years running and are favoured as major contenders in the Champions League this year. Joining Bayern could be Ronaldo’s best shot at racking up the trophies in his final years.
The Italian Connection: Napoli
Napoli were the frontrunners to acquire Ronaldo’s talents before the start of the season. Now sitting atop the Italian Serie A and above juggernauts Liverpool in their Champions League group, Napoli are the early surprise team of the season.
Ronaldo famously left Real Madrid for Serie A heavyweights Juventus in 2018 but failed to capture Champions League glory with the team. Could a return to Italy to prove to be successful?
Staying In England: Chelsea
Another interested team before the season was Manchester United’s rivals Chelsea. While a move to another Premier League side might not be United’s favoured option, manager Erik Ten Hag has said that he won’t prevent a move to a rival team if Ronaldo desires it.
Chelsea have managed to become perennial contenders in both the Premier League and Champions League. The addition of CR7 would certainly boost their chances at a third Champions League title and would add an interesting chapter to Ronaldo’s story.
Enemies Turned Friends: Atletico Madrid
Atletico Madrid were consistently punished (some would say bullied) by Ronaldo during his tenure with cross-town rivals Real Madrid. Atletico are Ronaldo’s second-favourite team to play against in terms of goalscoring. With 25 goals and a hat trick which eliminated Atletico from the Champions League in 2019, you would assume Atletico would dread seeing Ronaldo’s name on a team sheet.
Atletico are rumoured to have offered young Portuguese star Joao Felix in a swap deal for Ronaldo. The move would create box-office viewing when Atletico faces Real Madrid in the Madrid Derby.
The Crossover Everyone Wants to See: Paris Saint-Germain
It’s the mouth-watering idea that every football fan wants to see. What if the two greatest players of all time were to team up? Lionel Messi’s and Ronaldo’s careers have often run parallel, with the legends consistently pegged as fierce rivals for trophies and awards, but the two have never played together.
A move to Paris for Ronaldo would instantly fulfil the dreams of football fans all over the world and create an iconic duo. However, Ronaldo’s agent Jorge Mendes allegedly proposed the idea of Ronaldo making the switch to the French giants at the start of the season, but PSG rejected the offer. While a move looks unlikely, we can still hope.
The Return of the King: Real Madrid
Ronaldo won four of his five Ballon D’Ors and four of his five Champions Leagues with Real Madrid. He is also the all-time leading goal scorer in the clubs storied history. A return to the Santiago Bernabeu would be welcomed by fans and give CR7 a solid shot at another Champions League with the competitions defending champions.
Back To Where It All Started: Sporting Lisbon
Returning to the club that developed you from a kid with big dreams into a professional footballer has been a tradition amongst the pro’s. A return to his home country and his boyhood club Sporting Lisbon would provide a storybook ending to Ronaldo’s career.
Although the club is a yearly title contender in Portugal, they are not as competitive in the Champions League. Sporting still has a chance to advance to the knockout stages of the Champions League this year, which would surely provide an important bargaining chip in winning CR7’s favour.
If It’s Money You Want…: Middle East
In what would be a surprising destination, Saudi Arabian and Qatari teams have offered lucrative contracts to Ronaldo in what might be the most shocking transfer of all time.
The level of play in these leagues is not as high as in Europe and while Ronaldo would surely dominate, a move to the Middle East won’t do much to improve his legacy.
The Dark Horse: MLS
A slew of stars have made the move to the United States towards the back ends of their careers. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney and David Beckham all took their talents to the USA’s top-level competition, Major League Soccer.
The move would be a surprise, but it would continue the trend of stars moving to the states to join the emerging league which has rapidly increased in quality in recent years.
There is of course the possibility that Ronaldo stays at Manchester United and finishes his career there. Whatever happens, CR7 has already solidified himself as an all-time great and has written his name into the history books. “It has been a long road, but I would like to say that my road is not over yet,” Ronaldo said last month. “I still feel motivated and my ambition is high.”