Cristiano Ronaldo has finally ended the Lionel Messi debate back at Manchester United

Cristiano Ronaldo has never been the problem for Man United and is often the solution. Erik ten Hag needs him next season.

Just consider the facts: in his first season back in England after 12 years where he turned 37, Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 23 goals in 36 games, all of them in the Premier League and Champions League.

Ronaldo ended 2006-07 – his first great season with Manchester United – on 23 goals. Ronaldo has four games to match his tally of 26 for 2008-09.

The tedious Ronaldo-Messi debate was put to bed long ago. Ronaldo has conquered football’s three major leagues. Messi fled across the border to the Ligue 1 procession and hitherto has a paltry nine goals for Paris Saint-Germain.

Ronaldo eclipsed Messi years ago and did so again in a summer where they were both on the move. Messi’s mask slipped when he swapped the purity of Barcelona for the Qatari commodity in Paris. Ronaldo embraced the challenge of transforming United into a credible and competitive force.

Ronaldo was always going to be a success. United were unlikely to be. In a season United started as would-be championship challengers with the former Cardiff manager, they tossed it off before Christmas by hiring an interim who has agreed a new job with a nation that failed to qualify for the World Cup before the season has ended.

This has been the worst United team and season in living memory yet Ronaldo is the Premier League’s joint-second highest scorer with Heung-min Son and only behind Mohamed Salah, the new FWA Player of the Year.

In seven starts against Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal, Ronaldo has plundered eight goals. From Villa Park to Anfield, via the Etihad, when Ronaldo has been absent United have faltered rather than thrived.

Young players at United are in awe of Ronaldo and teammates as seasoned as Jesse Lingard, 29, and Phil Jones, 30, ‘love’ him, dressing room sources say. Ronaldo held the squad together in the wake of the 5-0 thrashing by Liverpool in October. His goals in the next two games against Tottenham and Atalanta earned Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a stay of execution.

The pseudo-intellectual and contrary crowds have attempted to portray Ronaldo as a problem. The very notion he had to adapt to the methods of Ralf Rangnick, a manager of 81 games in the decade prior to being parachuted in at United, was perverse. Rangnick is now so grateful to Ronaldo for sparing him of a more humiliating record he has suggested he would be an asset for Erik ten Hag, having previously had reservations about Ronaldo’s role at United next season.

Genuine United fans have recoiled at the word ‘philosophy’ since Louis van Gaal’s soporific spell and Rangnick had a cult following despite a sparse honours list. Ajax, the club of Total Football and Johan Cruyff, arouse the romantic among football followers of a certain persuasion and Ten Hag has quickly been deified despite two Champions League group stage eliminations and a round-of-16 ejection by Benfica since the run to the semi-finals in 2019.

Some are already debating whether Ten Hag can accommodate Ronaldo, as if Ten Hag is as esteemed or entitled a coach as Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola. Ten Hag signed Sebastian Haller, a write-off at West Ham, who is now the focal point for Ajax.

If Chelsea had Ronaldo in their XI on Thursday night they would have taken United to the cleaners. Ronaldo has as many goals as Manchester City’s top scorer, Riyad Mahrez and more than anyone at Chelsea and Tottenham. Salah is the only Liverpool player who has outscored Ronaldo.

Ronaldo has scored as many goals as in 2006-07

United have won a measly 19 games this season and Ronaldo was the matchwinner in 10 of them. Ronaldo, never the problem, is often the solution.

“‘He’s such a big problem for Man United, scoring goals week in, week out, it’s not good,” Roy Keane sarcastically quipped.

It is just as well United re-signed Ronaldo, what with Edinson Cavani’s flights to his Montevideo retreat, the impotence of Marcus Rashford and the irrelevance of Anthony Martial.

Ronaldo is the only outfield player at United who rises to that ‘standards’ banner unfurled in the Stretford End that bears the faces of Keane, Robson and Cantona. Ten Hag has to make a beeline for him.

Just consider the facts.

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