It was just under three weeks ago that Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag took the ruthless decision to banish Cristiano Ronaldo from his first-team squad following the Portuguese’s antics during the win over Tottenham Hotspur, with the 37-year-old having reportedly refused to come off the bench in the closing stages of that triumph.
Amid the collective euphoria of what was arguably the club’s best display of the season thus far, the former Real Madrid man somewhat soured the mood as he headed for the Old Trafford tunnel before the game was out, with many having wondered whether it may be the last image of the veteran marksman at the club.
Fast forward just a matter of games and United took to the field at Villa Park on Saturday with Ronaldo not only leading the line, but also wearing the captain’s armband, with Ten Hag having deemed it wise to welcome his high-profile asset back into the fold in recent matches.
Whether it is an act of appeasement or merely an act of necessity – amid injuries to the likes of Antony, Jadon Sancho and Anthony Martial – the decision to reinstate the 191-cap machine has somewhat backfired for the former Ajax boss, with the £515k-per-week hotshot still struggling to fire in front of goal.
While the one-time Juventus ace did tee up his ‘protegee’ Alejandro Garnacho during Thursday’s 1-0 win over Real Sociedad, the £17.4m-rated man has largely struggled to make an impact in the final third this season, scoring just three goals in all competitions – two of which came against Europa League minnows, FC Sheriff.
The most recent clash with Unai Emery’s Aston Villa once again saw the prolific asset underwhelm in attack, having notably missed a gilt-edged headed chance midway through the first half, after directing his effort far too close to opposition ‘keeper, Emi Martinez.
The legendary ace cut an isolated and frustrated figure through the middle, having at one stage seemingly taken out his anger on Tyrone Mings as the pair engaged in an almost comical tussle inside the area.
On what was another quiet outing for the five-time Ballon d’Or winner, the ruthless presence made just 25 touches in total – fewer than teammate David De Gea in the sticks (31) – with the serial-winner struggling to make an impact with his all-round game.
While Ten Hag had suggested that part of the fault lay with the striker’s teammates for making the “stupid” decision to deliver crosses into the box far too quickly, Tim Vigon suggested that Ronaldo is now a “full-blown issue” for the Red Devils due to his lack of mobility.
For all the accolades he has achieved throughout his career and the plethora of goals he has registered to date – 145 of which have come across his two spells in Manchester – it is hard to get away from the potential negative influence that the former Sporting Lisbon icon is having at the Theatre of Dreams at present.