Manchester United

Manchester United

Premier League • England

Cristiano Ronaldo: Gary Neville assesses how Ten Hag has handled situation after noticing Man Utd clue

Man Utd striker Cristiano Ronaldo and manager Erik ten Hag

Cristiano Ronaldo has to accept that he can still be a “massive contributor” as a bench player for Manchester United, according to Gary Neville.

Ronaldo wanted to leave Manchester United in the summer after they failed to qualify for the Champions League. However, there was a lack of European interest in his services. Therefore, he has returned to the Manchester United fold after missing most of pre-season for personal reasons.

For the most part, the Portugal international has had to put up with only making cameos from the bench. He has played 11 games in all competitions so far this season. But whereas all four of his Europa League appearances have come as a starter, only one of his seven Premier League outings has come from the first minute.

At the age of 37, it might be expected for such a player to be winding down his gametime. But this is Cristiano Ronaldo. A five-time Ballon d’Or winner, he was still Manchester United’s top scorer with 24 goals last season.

Therefore, there have been worries that Ronaldo still might not be completely happy at Manchester United. The topic of a transfer in 2023 – the year in which his contract is due to expire, unless the club activate an option to extend it by a further 12 months – has still been prevalent.

However, former Manchester United defender Gary Neville thinks Ronaldo needs to accept his situation at the club. There is still a belief he can be a key player; Neville pointed to his first Premier League goal of the season after he came on against Everton last weekend to clinch a 2-1 win.

Neville told the Daily Mirror: “What I would hope is that, like with any other player coming towards the end of his career, he’ll accept that he won’t play every single game and he’ll stay and become a massive contributor like he was on Sunday night [against Everton] and United will have a good season.

“If Ronaldo stays I do think they have a far better chance of being a top-four team, even if he doesn’t play every week and he comes off the bench like he did against Everton. But I suspect his mentality, his psyche is such that he can’t not play.

“He feels it’s an insult and people I respect enormously in the game think he’s being disrespected by being on the bench. But I don’t see that at all. I think Erik ten Hag has come out of this really well.”

Neville wonders where else Cristiano Ronaldo would go

There is no doubt that Ronaldo is the biggest player Ten Hag has ever had to manage. However, Neville thinks the former Ajax boss has been dealing with the situation well.

Now, it is up to Ronaldo to decide whether he wants to commit fully to Man Utd. For Neville, there won’t be many better places for him to be.

The former full-back added: “For me, I hope he can somehow think, ‘Where am I going to play where the fans love me as much, where there are still trophies on the table? We can achieve stuff.’ Where is he going to play in Europe?

“In the summer, no one wanted him in the transfer window. I think United have played it pretty well, this one.

“He’s playing, doing the right things on and off the pitch. There are no conversations coming out about Ronaldo at this moment in time about anything; it’s just all focus to get ready for the World Cup.”

Celebration gives clue about Man Utd mood

Before the World Cup, there are still several fixtures to fulfil with Man Utd. Getting back on a Premier League scoresheet last weekend will have been a useful reminder of what he can contribute.

But it was what happened after his goal that caught Neville’s attention. The pundit thought the togetherness seen in the celebrations represented a difference surrounding Ronaldo.

Neville explained: “I thought it was interesting on Sunday when he scored that goal. I thought the players who were out there on the pitch really responded to that. And I think you can tell a lot in goal celebrations.

“I have to say over the last 12 months there have been times where I can see when he’s scored or when someone else has scored and I’ve thought there isn’t much togetherness there.

“I did feel on Sunday there was a genuinely good atmosphere in the group who went to celebrate with him and I think that’s something that is really important. So the fact that that has happened makes me feel that he, at this moment, has got his head on.”

Next up for Manchester United is a match against Newcastle in the Premier League on Sunday October 16.

READ MORETen Hag lauded after Scholes and Hargreaves learn of crazy Man Utd statistic – ‘He’s got his finger on the pulse’