After a trophyless campaign and failing to qualify for the Champions League, Manchester United may now lose its star player, Cristiano Ronaldo. The Times newspaper reported that the Portuguese international, seeking a Champions League stint, is considering leaving. Speculation has been rife about Ronaldo's future at United although incoming manager Erik ten Hag has said the star is part of his plans.
The report added that the 37-year-old believes that he can play at the elite level for another "three or four years."
Ronaldo re-signed for United from Juventus in August 2021 and was one of the few bright sparks for Ralf Rangnick's team last season, netting 24 times in all competitions. The former Real Madrid attacker, who still has a year left on his contract at Old Trafford, has been linked in recent days with a move to Chelsea and Bayern Munich.
The potential departure already fired up rumors and a debate. Ronaldo should have told Manchester United he wanted to leave at the end of last season rather than drop a July bombshell, according to former Liverpool star Jamie Carragher. Unless Ronaldo has been given unexpected information about his role at United in the new season, Carragher said he could not understand the timing of his apparent request to move on.
Carragher sparked a debate with former United captain Gary Neville on Twitter when he wrote: "Ronaldo did exactly what I thought he would do, score goals but make the team worse. The transfer request also kills the idea he turned down Man City because of his love for Man United." That was a reference to the saga that saw United seemingly pip Manchester City to the signing of Ronaldo last August, when Alex Ferguson appealed to his former star player to return to the Red Devils. Carragher's comments triggered a rebuttal from Neville, who said: "I get it, you’re full of yourselves but he can turn down City for United because he likes them more and still want to leave this summer. He left before but still loved the club. Enjoy Saturday night and your short period of success."
Carragher, who has seen Liverpool rack up a string of trophies during a lean recent period for United, did not leave it at that. "City didn’t want him you [clown] and you're the same fella who kept saying it was like Elvis had arrived in Manchester! Elvis has left the building," Carragher replied. Carragher added: "Also, why now? Has ETH [Erik ten Hag] told him he is not part of his plans or will play a limited role?? Surely the end of last season was the right time to tell the club."
Ronaldo scored 24 goals in all competitions last season, including 18 in the Premier League. United finished with their lowest points tally in the 30-year history of the Premier League, a competition Ronaldo won three times during his first United stint from 2003 to 2009.
Five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo has recently been linked with United's domestic rivals Chelsea and Jose Mourinho's Serie A outfit Roma. The Italians would be unable to offer Champions League football in 2022-23, but Chelsea could, having finished third in last season's Premier League.
The Portuguese superstar has played in Europe's elite competition for 19 consecutive seasons since first moving to United from Sporting CP in 2003 and stands as the highest-ever scorer in the tournament with 140 goals.
A return to Serie A has been touted for Ronaldo, with The Athletic naming Napoli as potential suitors – they have a void in their team following the exit of Lorenzo Insigne. In Ronaldo's three years in Italy with Juventus, no player scored more Serie A goals than his tally of 81 and, despite spending the past year with Manchester United, only Ciro Immobile has scored more Serie A goals since 2018.
Napoli, having finished third in Serie A last year and nine points ahead of Juventus, would match Ronaldo's desire to play Champions League football – although the club's finances and Ronaldo's wage demands may prove to be restrictive.
Fresh from Todd Boehly's takeover, Chelsea is looking to rejuvenate the squad and finances do not appear to be a problem, given it has allowed Romelu Lukaku to return to Inter on loan just a year after spending a club-record 97.5 million pounds ($118 million) on the Belgium forward. Interestingly enough, it has been reported that Ronaldo's agent, Jorge Mendes, has already met with the new Chelsea owner this summer and the Blues are in need of a striker having lost Lukaku, with Timo Werner performing better from a deeper role. Whether Ronaldo would accept a move to a Premier League rival, given his status at Old Trafford, is the biggest question regarding any hopes the Blues may have in signing the veteran forward and, if he is keen, United would likely demand a significant return on the investment it paid last year. Chelsea also has an interest in Raheem Sterling and Leeds United attacker Raphinha, but Ronaldo would be a statement of intent for the new owner.
With a United homecoming already under his belt, could Sporting secure a sensational return of their own and bring Ronaldo back to where it all began? It's certainly not beyond the realm of possibility. Second in Primeira Liga last season, Sporting has the Champions League football that Ronaldo craves and he is already a great at the club – though his success has come in his years since he left his home country in 2003. Ronaldo had just a single season in the senior squad with Sporting before he moved to United, so he may feel he has unfinished business – and it is a side that can definitely compete, having ended a 20-year barren spell without a league title in the 2020-21 season.
Ronaldo has shone in three of Europe's top-five leagues, the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A, with only the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 left standing – and Bayern have been touted as potential suitors, though Paris Saint-Germain is not said to be interested (sorry, no link up with Lionel Messi just yet, sports fans). With Robert Lewandowski's future at the Allianz Arena continuing to be shrouded in speculation, it may fall into place for the Poland international to get what he wants, a move to Barcelona, and for Bayern to land Ronaldo as his replacement. In the past five years, no player has scored more league goals than Lewandowski (193) but Ronaldo, along with the addition of Sadio Mane, should be able to fill any goalscoring void that would be left in the event of a departure.
Another possible return destination ... could Ronaldo wind back up in the Spanish capital? The Champions League winner is hardly in need of another superstar forward, given the incredible form of Karim Benzema, but bringing Ronaldo back to the club where he scored 450 goals would surely appeal to president Florentino Perez? Madrid missed out on Kylian Mbappe, much to their frustration, and having Ronaldo on their side would plug a gap, so to speak, until the PSG forward is further into the new, three-year contract he signed with the French club in May.
Champions League football has been documented as the reason for Ronaldo's desire to leave but, if such offers are not forthcoming, could a move to MLS be on the cards? Financial rules and designated player spots would make a switch complicated, with there only being a handful of teams likely to be able to make a move possible – likely to be those in Los Angeles, Miami and New York. With the 2026 World Cup taking place in North America, bringing Ronaldo to MLS would raise the profile of the league further – and would undoubtedly be the biggest acquisition for the league since David Beckham's move to LA Galaxy in 2007. That move marked the start of a new era of soccer in the U.S. and has evolved considerably since, though Ronaldo's arrival would send things to a completely new level. It has been reported that United do not wish to sell Ronaldo, but with his contract being up next year, could a switch to North America be likely?