Cristiano Ronaldo needs to get fitter and become more selfless if he wants to play a major part in Erik ten Hag’s new Manchester United.
United’s Dutch manager is pleased Ronaldo remains at the club after the transfer window but it is clear the five-time Ballon d’Or winner has to adapt to the changing philosophy at Old Trafford rather than the other way around.
Ronaldo, 37, has started only once under ten Hag — the 4-0 defeat at Brentford — after missing the club’s tour to Australia for personal reasons, and he is likely to be on the bench again against Arsenal on Sunday as United have won three on the trot with a high-tempo attack of Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bruno Fernandes. The £85 million deadline day signing Antony is also in contention.
Cristiano Ronaldo (pictured) has been urged to improve his fitness by manager Erik ten Hag
‘I will be his friend, sometimes I will be his teacher. It depends on the situation,’ said Ten Hag about his carrot-and-stick approach to Ronaldo. As we all know, he didn’t have the pre-season and you can’t miss the pre-season.
It depends, demands, co-operation and demands certain positioning, in and out of possession. And the other thing is the fitness.’
Ten Hag has impressed in his short tenure at United. His manner, both on the training pitch and to the outside world, is clipped and to the point.
He also shares with United great Sir Alex Ferguson the ability to make big decisions. Axing Ronaldo, captain Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw and Fred after the Brentford shambles was a risk, but has paid off so far.
Erik ten Hag has said that he is happy that Ronaldo will stay at the club after the transfer window
Venturing into the Dutch market has also been controversial, particularly as the sums for Antony, Lisandro Martinez and Tyrell Malacia add up to a mouthwatering £156 million.
For every success story in England from the Eredivisie like Luis Suarez and Ruud van Nistelrooy, there have been players who haven’t made the grade.
Ajax captain Davy Klaassen was a flop at Everton, while Mateja Kezman scored only seven times for Chelsea having managed a-goal-a-game for PSV.
Lisandro Martinez has established himself in the Manchester United team after a tough start
Ten Hag, who returned to Ajax to snap up Antony and Martinez, and knew all about Malacia from matches against Feyenoord, insists the club have done their homework rather than gamble on players who might not be suited to the Premier League.
‘First, the players we signed are international,’ he said. Second, they (Antony and Martinez) have performed really well in the Champions League. And third, they have individual attributes. They are capable of playing high-intensity football.’
Although the signing of Martinez, a 5ft 9ins centre-back, was questioned given the physical rigors of English football, he has already become something of a cult hero among United supporters.
Arsenal were also interested in signing the ‘Argentine butcher’, whose nickname was a term of endearment from Ajax fans yet belies a high level of skill, so Ten Hag is delighted he chose Old Trafford.
Anthony was signed by Manchester United from Ajax on transfer deadline day for £85 million
‘Yes, I wanted him,’ said the United boss. ‘Ball-playing but also you see his defending capabilities. His toughness, his positioning, his anticipating.’
Dutch legend Marco van Basten thinks the price tag for Brazilian Antony was too steep. ‘He hasn’t proven anything yet,’ he said. Yet the 22-year-old fits in with Ten Hag’s attacking fluidity in which he, Rashford, Anthony Martial, Anthony Elanga and Sancho can all rotate across the forward line.
It’s something Ronaldo will have to take on board. When ten Hag talks about ‘co-operation’, he means teamwork and working for each other on the pitch. What the youngsters can learn is Ronaldo’s ability to thrive under pressure.
None of United’s biggest signings — Paul Pogba, Harry Maguire or Romelu Lukaku — have been big successes at the club. Antony, the second-most expensive in the club’s history, will have to buck that trend.