The fact that there is any debate over Ronaldo’s place in United’s starting lineup demonstrates how turbulent the last three months have been. Few would have predicted at the end of last season that the 37-year-future old’s would be one of the most contentious issues in world football.
But, unfortunately, his desire to facilitate a move away from Old Trafford has not only disrupted his own pre-season but has cast a shadow over the entire club’s as well. Ten Hag allowed Ronaldo to skip United’s summer tour of Australia and Asia – and has eased him into his new role.
Ronaldo has played just 45 minutes since breaking up for the summer, but it was his exit from Old Trafford – rather than what he did on the pitch – which made headlines.
Ten Hag opted to not name his talisman specifically when he described several players’ decision to depart early as “unacceptable”. But if the Dutchman thought his most high-profile player wouldn’t bear the brunt of the reaction then it was his first stroke of naivety.
However, after Anthony Martial suffered an injury in training, Ten Hag’s options for replacing him against Brighton are limited. He could still keep Ronaldo on the bench, waiting to make an impact against tired legs.
That, however, would be going against the wishes of the player, who has stated that he is fit, happy, and ready to go. Ronaldo has been ‘firing’ in training in the days leading up to their clash with the Seagulls, according to Mirror Football, and has told Ten Hag he is in peak condition.
The new United boss has insisted that keeping Ronaldo at the club beyond September was always in the blueprint and has repeatedly stated he intends to “stick to the plan”. What he perhaps hadn’t forecasted was starting the veteran striker after such a disrupted period of preparations.
Ronaldo’s attitude has rightly come under question in recent weeks, but sources at Carrington have said that he has been at his best in training – backing up Ten Hag’s own version of events.
“How do I feel about starting the season with Ronaldo? I’m really happy,” said Ten Hag. “I had told you before: we planned with him for the season. We have a top striker and I’m really happy he’s here, he’s in the squad and we stick to the plan.”