One of the tales that led to Saturday’s Manchester derby was whether Manchester City had missed a trick by not landing Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer… and whether they had to pay for it out on the pitch.
After 90 minutes in which they outclassed, surpassed and worked Manchester United and Ronaldo was reduced to being a slightly divided player, the debate is dead.
In the end, the only impression he made on the derby was the buds on Kevin De Bruyne’s legs in an outrageously late outcome that gave him a yellow card that could easily have been red.
The extent of City’s interest in Ronaldo is a matter of conjecture, with some claiming they had gone so far as to make a deal, and City sources reject it, saying he was never more than an interesting option if the price was cheap enough.
City fans, who despise the Portuguese star from his first inning at Old Trafford, were delighted that City did not get him, but some took the view that he would have been the goal-scoring striker the Blues need to put in place. a final touch to their excellent team.
There were some who were of the opinion that City needed a striker – any striker – in the summer and that Ronaldo would have been a better option where names like Dusan Vlahovic and Danny Ings were kicked around.
An attacker, any attacker, is better than no attacker, was the logic.
That performance was shattered and washed away in the derby-day drizzle as attackless City bewitched the unhappy Reds into a state of paralysis. Not only did they not play a number nine, they did not even play a true fake nine, giving Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva and Kevin De Bruyne – three intelligent football players – a license to drive in and out of the seats occupied by a United back-trees that were left to look gormless as it tried to mark opponents who came and went like Piccadilly pigeons.
That City would benefit from picking up a striker is unquestionable. They would not have been prepared to beat their own British record of £ 100 million to pick up Harry Kane if that had not been the case.
But “any old striker” is not a viable option, even if that console included Ronaldo, who has been one of the world’s great players.
A strange debate has arisen at Old Trafford, between those who see Ronaldo as the problem and those who think he is the solution.
When he scores late winners or equalizers, he is hailed as being the man to carry the burden, and he lifts an average United team with him as he tries to stay in the Champions League or keep pace at the top of the Premier League.
When he does not score, his lack of running and pressure is highlighted, and he is selected as a significant factor in United’s greatest malaise – that they are a collection of individuals who will almost always be second best against a real team. .
It seems strange that no one is considering the alternative – that Ronaldo is both a problem and a solution, just like the strange people who set fire and then start putting them out before the fire trucks show up, fake heroes.
It’s not to disrespect Ronaldo – he’s been a really incredible footballer, and given the chances he’s clearly still a good goal scorer.
But while that may be enough for United, it would not have fitted in well with this City team.
He would no doubt have scored goals in a blue jersey. But would he have run like Bernardo, chased like De Bruyne and harryget like Gundogan – the three players who brilliantly executed much of the Blues’ master plan? No, he would not.
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Introducing an ego like Ronaldo in a beautifully smooth, sum of its parts City machine that has an equilibrium that depends on everyone pulling their weight, in defense and attack, would have caused so much damage that his goal would not have been adequate compensation.
The one who fills the vacant attacking place at City is expected – as Sergio Aguero was – to make a switch in the form of pressure.
Kane does it for Tottenham, or at least he did until this season, when he has clearly been affected by Daniel Levy’s refusal to let him come to City.
Erling Haaland does the same for Borussia Dortmund, and each of these players would be the last piece in the blue jigsaw. But it was never Ronaldo.