IAN LADYMAN: Man United need Ronaldo to lead but can he stomach it?

IAN LADYMAN: Man United would benefit from a new captain with Cristiano Ronaldo the top candidate… but does he have the stomach to replace Harry Maguire in a season marred by a mix of brilliance and irrelevance?

  • If Cristiano Ronaldo chose to lead other players at United would follow him
  • Ronaldo hasn’t shown himself to be of that standard so far since his return
  • His return wasn’t a mistake but there’s a feeling he could still offer United more 
  • He carries the air of someone who blames his team-mates for their struggles 

As Harry Maguire continues to struggle, Manchester United would probably benefit from a new captain and in an ideal world the leading candidate would be Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 36-year-old is the club’s best player. If he chose to lead others would follow.

Yet Ronaldo has not shown himself to be of that standard during his second spell at Old Trafford and that is a shame. So far, his season has been a curious mix of brilliance and irrelevance with the occasional moment of apparent contempt throw in.

Cristiano Ronaldo would be the leading candidate to become captain at Manchester United

Ronaldo’s return was not a mistake. He remains a brilliant footballer and may yet prove the difference between another bad United season and one that ends up being a little more rewarding.

The sadness is that Ronaldo has the opportunity to offer a little bit more than this, to leave behind a genuine legacy. This is a United team desperate for someone to show them the way. A group of players in need of someone to look up to.

But as they struggled in the rain at Newcastle last week, United got nothing from Ronaldo. They did not get much hard work or inspiration. There was no signal for them to lift their own standards as there was nothing remotely impressive about his own.

United would benefit from replacing struggling Harry Maguire as captain this season

Ronaldo could have been sent off for a wild lunge at Sean Longstaff in the second half. All that did was add to the general sense of chaos around United’s football. And then, at full time, he was off down the tunnel without a handshake or a wave of acknowledgement to the couple of thousand United fans about to drive 150 miles home in abysmal winter weather.

Ronaldo has form for the latter offence. When United win — particularly if he has scored — then he is last off the pitch. Not so when things have not gone well.

Some say this kind of stuff does not matter but I think it does. It is OK to be angry when things have not gone well. Ronaldo cares, for sure. But currently he carries the air of a player who blames everybody else for his team’s struggles.

He doesn’t seem ready to accept that maybe he is partly responsible, too, and in the United dressing room that will have been noticed. It can do great damage.

Ronaldo is a United legend but that doesn’t mean he cannot do better.

But Ronaldo has not shown himself to be of leadership standard since returning to United

Roy Keane remains one of Old Trafford’s most controversial figures and he made his own mistakes. But Keane — a little like David Beckham when he played for England — had a priceless knack of usually keeping his own playing levels high even when others were struggling. When a United player looked at Keane on the field, they more often than not found a player leading the way, setting a tone for others to follow.

From Ronaldo, nobody is getting that at the moment. He too often looks like a bloke who has turned up on holiday to find that the hotel wasn’t quite as good as it looked in the brochure. Maybe he just didn’t examine the United squad properly when he left Juventus. Maybe he thought he could fix everything just by putting the No 7 shirt back on.

If so, he was wrong. This United need more than some important goals and some old school glamour. They need dragging through the nettles by someone who can see a bigger picture.

Has Ronaldo got the stomach for that? He has the remainder of the season to show us.

Ronaldo (pictured) is a brilliant footballer but he could be offering United more this season


Arsenal are at Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup which reminds me of a great press conference moment.

Having taken over at Forest with a brief to save them from Premier League relegation in 1999, Ron Atkinson marked his first game by walking out at the City Ground and mistakenly taking a seat in the wrong dug-out.

Forest lost 1-0 to Arsenal that day and were to go down. But that didn’t stop Atkinson styling the whole thing out.

Ron Atkinson mistakenly sat in the wrong dug-out in his first game as Nottingham Forest boss

Asked afterwards about his pre-match faux pas, he replied: ‘I looked over my right shoulder and saw Bergkamp sitting there. Over my left was Overmars.

‘First thing I thought was, “How the hell are this lot bottom of the Premier League if they can leave those two on the bench?”.’ 


James Maddison has rediscovered the form that once earned him England recognition and it’s just as well. 

Because in 23-year-old Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, Leicester have developed another gifted midfield player ready to step right into his shoes.

Leicester’s James Maddison has discovered form at the right time with competition at the club


In other countries players continue to make their feelings known about the Qatar World Cup.

Denmark’s Thomas Delaney said this week: ‘It’s a bad idea in every way and I was wish it was being held anywhere else.’

In England, our players have, according to Raheem Sterling, been told to say nothing.

England stars should be allowed to make their feelings known about the Qatar World Cup

When a statement does arrive, it is likely to be a collective one.

But how does that work?

On a subject as broad and complex as this, it is impossible that all of Gareth Southgate’s players will have the same view.

So let them talk, for pity’s sake. Let them tell us what they actually feel.

You never know, people might even respect them for it.

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