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Cristiano Ronaldo

Ronaldo did Man Utd a favour! How CR7 exit paved way for Ten Hag's title charge

11:00 GMT+3 18/01/2023
Man Utd Cristiano Ronaldo GFX
The Portuguese did his best to undermine the United boss, but ended up inadvertently providing the spark for their impressive revival

“As Picasso said, you have to destroy it to rebuild it.”

Cristiano Ronaldo’s now infamous interview with Piers Morgan which led to the termination of his Manchester United contract contained an embarrassment of misguided revelations, but his comments on the state of Erik ten Hag’s squad have almost certainly aged the worst.

“I want the best for the club. This is why I came to Manchester United,” the five-time Ballon d’Or winner explained. “But you have some things inside that don’t help (us) reach the top level as [Manchester] City, Liverpool and even now Arsenal . . . a club with this dimension should be top of the tree in my opinion and they are not unfortunately. “I love Manchester United, I love the fans, they’re always on my side. But if they want to do it differently… they have to change many, many things.”

In fact, only one change was needed for Ten Hag to kick-start his revolution at Old Trafford. Ronaldo had to be cut out as his toxicity threatened to totally derail the club he claims to love so much.

Ten Hag quickly realised that United’s performances were better without Ronaldo in the line up, as he was dropped to the bench for eight of his final 12 Premier League matches at the club.

However, even when he wasn’t on the pitch, the Portugal international dominated headlines and disrupted the dressing room harmony. The writing was on the wall after his worst outburst, which saw him refuse to come on as a substitute against Tottenham and storm out of Old Trafford before the final whistle.

Ronaldo accused United of betrayal in his cringe-worthy sit-down with Morgan, but he was the real traitor. He claimed to have been disrespected by Ten Hag, but was the true villain himself.

United simply could not move forward with the 37-year-old still on their books. His final appearance came in a 3-1 loss at Aston Villa on November 6, which left many questioning the Red Devils’ chances of a return to the Champions League.

Ten Hag’s men have won nine successive games in all competitions since then, including a stunning 2-1 triumph over Manchester City on Saturday that puts them right in the mix for a first title since 2012-13.

With Ronaldo gone, United have been able to remove the shackles and play to their full potential. They are devastating to watch in full flow due to the pace and quality of their attackers, and solid and stubborn at the other end of the pitch, with discipline underpinning their success.

Bruno Fernandes said after the derby victory: “Some time ago you could see sometimes a team, sometimes we were looking a little bit for ourselves, but now you see a proper team that works hard for each other and you see that it pays.”

It has been a long time since Ronaldo bought into such a philosophy. The man that lit up Old Trafford with his skill and infectious will to win between 2003 and 2009 is now just a relic of the past.

The whole world knows it, which is why he has been forced to head

to Al-Nassr in Saudi Arabia in order to prolong his career.

United fans now have new heroes to worship. Summer signings such as Casemiro and Christian Eriksen have been freed up to flourish, while Marcus Rashford has accepted the burden of being the team’s chief goal-getter since taking Ronaldo’s spot through the middle. 

Raphael Varane has been immense in the heart of the defence, with Luke Shaw making a similar impact in a new role alongside him. Previously divisive figures such as Fred and Diogo Dalot have silenced their doubters, too.

United are up to joint-third in the top-flight standings as a result, one point behind City and nine adrift of leaders Arsenal. A midweek trip to Crystal Palace is up next before Ten Hag takes his troops to the Emirates Stadium for a potentially season-defining clash against the Gunners.

Ten Hag isn’t getting carried away just yet. When asked about a potential title tilt before the derby, he told reporters: “I don’t think about that in this moment. I don’t dream. I have to develop the team and you’re talking about January – not even halfway, so don’t talk about that. I think Sir Alex Ferguson always said the league is starting in April.”

However, the Dutch tactician also told BT Sport post-match: “The spirit of the team is so huge, the belief is there that the game is 90 minutes and we can fight back. The belief is back and we're in a good direction.”

That belief has been built on the ruins of Ronaldo’s United legacy. He was arrogant enough to believe that their decline would continue without him, but they have ascended to heights not seen in the red half of Manchester since Ferguson's glorious final season at the helm a decade ago.

United owe Ronaldo a debt, not just for the 146 goals he scored across his two spells at the club, but for making a fool out of himself so that they could finally start climbing back to the top.

@goalglobal

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