Cristiano Ronaldo has no reason to be sour but Alejandro Garnacho’s emergence as budding star perfect timing for Man Utd
A BRILLIANT young winger surges down the left flank and scores a last-gasp winner at the Putney End of Craven Cottage to secure a late winner in a 2-1 victory for Manchester United.
Sixteen seasons ago, it was Cristiano Ronaldo. On Sunday, it was Alejandro Garnacho.
The timing of the Argentinian teenager’s strike was magnificent for Erik ten Hag, with Ronaldo’s latest tantrum about to erupt.
Until Garnacho’s 72nd-minute arrival, the Red Devils were under the cosh with Fulham looking the likelier winners but the kid transformed the game and his goal shifted the narrative.
It would be cynical to suggest Ronaldo might have preferred United not to have won, just hours before the detonation of the suicide-vest interview with Piers Morgan which will end his Old Trafford career.
But given that he’d thrown a tantrum and refused to go on during the recent 2-0 win over Tottenham — one of the club’s best performances in years — it is also a realistic assumption.
There are two statements of the bleeding obvious which need saying on the back of Ronaldo’s interview.
Firstly, people get older, therefore footballers get old. Secondly, football is a team game and, increasingly, a squad game.
That United’s bleating ‘black sheep’ is unable to accept either of these basic truths is a classic symptom of narcissism and will surprise no one, except perhaps his fellow narcissists.
But for Ten Hag, it is a problem which cannot be ignored.
PLAY OUR DREAM TEAM WORLD CUP FANTASY FOOTBALL GAME TO WIN A SHARE OF £50k
It is still very possible for a top athlete to enjoy elite football into his late-30s, as long as he accepts a new role, including less influence as a player but greater influence as a person.
James Milner, a year younger than Ronaldo at 36, became only the fourth man to make 600 Premier League appearances at the weekend and he may well continue for a good few seasons yet.
But Liverpool midfielder Milner is the anti-Ronaldo. Nowhere near as talented a player but at the opposite end of the ego spectrum.
We always knew Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford, 14 months ago, was based on nostalgia from United’s perspective. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign was built on faded glories.
Ronaldo’s interview makes clear his decision to rejoin was also based on misty-eyed sentiment.
The Portuguese says he followed his heart, that Sir Alex Ferguson told him it was impossible to join Manchester City rather than United, and that he replied ‘OK, boss’.
But soon Ronaldo realised that “the progress was zero. Since Sir Alex left, I saw no evolution in the club. Nothing had changed”.
This is exactly what pretty much everyone had been saying about United for the previous decade — including Ralf Rangnick and Ten Hag, with Solskjaer a rare exception.
Maybe he should have asked about a bit before re-signing. Maybe he should have noticed the anti-Glazer protestors who were so angry about all this that they had forced the postponement of a Premier League match against Liverpool just four months earlier.
The lack of self-awareness in Ronaldo’s complaint is striking.
His return to United from Juventus was the most glaring example of the club being stuck in the past.
Ronaldo literally still refers to Ferguson as ‘boss’, while accusing Ten Hag of ‘disrespect’ and claiming he had ‘never heard of’ Rangnick, which suggests he’d never perused the bookies’ odds for any Premier League vacancy in the previous 15 years, because the German’s name was on every shortlist.
It is rare and, unless you are a rabid United loyalist, it is welcome to hear Ronaldo speaking so openly.
A lot gets said and written about a man widely suspected to be an egomaniac diva.
So it was useful for Ronaldo to open up and confirm that he is actually a bigger egomaniac diva than most of us had even suspected.
Ten Hag’s belief that a 37-year-old Ronaldo should no longer be a regular starter at an elite club is not some rogue opinion.
No major club came in for the Portuguese when he was available in the summer. Then boss Thomas Tuchel refused Todd Boehly’s offer to sign him for Chelsea.
Under Ten Hag it now feels as if United might have a long-term plan to begin clawing their way back towards greatness.
Garnacho is perhaps the best of several young stars who will be at the centre of that process.
He is 18, he is thrilling to watch and he must be equally excited to see a great career opening up before him.
It is extremely unlikely that Garnacho will be anything like as successful as Ronaldo — with five Ballon d’Ors, five Champions Leagues, a European title with Portugal, an all-time record for international goals.
Many claim he is football’s GOAT — an argument which can be made as convincingly for Ronaldo as for Lionel Messi, Diego Maradona, Pele and no others.
Ronaldo has so much to be proud of. So much to cherish. So much experience to pass on to the likes of Garnacho.
And a fair bit still to enjoy as a player, should he wish to continue.
He has everything on his side except for youth.
How sad that he seems to resent that.
And how sad that a man who has provided so much pleasure should sound so sour, when he has so little to be sour about.
IT’S MAD, GARETH
PUTTING James Maddison in his World Cup squad was an uncharacteristic example of Gareth Southgate playing to the galleries and trying to take heat off himself rather than balancing his squad.
Sure, Maddison is a wonderful player in excellent form. But if Southgate’s Plan A is a back five then only one out of Bukayo Saka, Mason Mount, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish will start, so it is difficult to imagine Maddison getting any game time in Qatar.
To include only one left-back in a squad of 26 is odd. And while a fit Ben Chilwell would have made the plane, a back-up left-back such as Rico Henry, Tyrick Mitchell or Ryan Sessegnon would have made far more sense.
GUNNER BE CLOSE
THE idea of an Arsenal title win being akin to ‘doing a Leicester’ is daft but if they go the distance it would be the second most surprising top-flight win of the Prem era.
The Gunners might have a five-point lead at Christmas — which has come early this year — but Manchester City remain odds-on favourites.
It is now 33-1 bar City or Arsenal with most major bookies, so this thing is actually getting serious.
GO PALHIN ON TACKLE
IT felt as if the idea of great tackling being a lost art in football was a fact rather than just a tired lament — due to changes in refereeing of the game.
Yet if you watch Fulham’s midfield enforcer Joao Palhinha then you will realise thunderous tackles do remain within the laws of the game.
It is just that now you have to be extremely good at it.
AFTER scoring twice in Burnley’s 3-0 derby victory over bitter rivals Blackburn, Ashley Barnes told BBC Sport: “Every goal is special but to score against the b******* there is amazing.”
Long-serving players who absolutely ‘get it’. Rarer, and more treasured, than ever before.
GONE TO POTT?
BRITISH coach overachieves at a ‘lesser’ Premier League club, is elevated to a ‘Big Six’ side, shown little patience and sacked within months — Roy Hodgson at Liverpool, David Moyes at Manchester United, Graham Potter at Chelsea?
Let’s hope not, but you wouldn’t bet against it.
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