Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s decision to bring Cristiano Ronaldo back to Manchester United could harm their DNA in the short-term – but the Portugal ace help it thrive in the long run
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s mission to restore Manchester United to domestic dominance has centred around a bid to re-establish the club’s DNA.
Over the years, United have established a proud tradition of providing a platform for young, attacking players to thrive.
Mason Greenwood has been one of Carrington’s most recent success stories after his rise to prominence under Solskjaer over the past two years.
His evolution under the Norwegian boss has been clear for all to see this season with a stunning start to the new campaign, netting three goals in as many games.
But the unexpected return of Cristiano Ronaldo has dealt a blow to Greenwood’s immediate prospects of featuring as United’s number nine.
On paper, the signing of a 36-year-old veteran to take the place of a 19-year-old who’s made an electric start to the season seems like a betrayal of that DNA that Solskjaer has spoken so much about.
But, if you look closer, the signing of Ronaldo can actually prove to be the catalyst for Greenwood and United’s DNA to thrive long beyond the Portuguese star’s two-year contract – even if it has to take a short-term hit.
Solskjaer has already made it abundantly clear that Ronaldo hasn’t been brought back to Old Trafford to sit on the bench.
And rightly so – why would you sign an elite player, even in the twilight of his career, and then use him sparingly?
When Ronaldo is integrated into the United first team, which could be sooner rather than later following his early release by Portugal after breaking the all-time international goalscoring record, it will undoubtedly have a knock-on effect on Greenwood.
Ronaldo’s evolution over the past 12 years since he departed Old Trafford means he will return in a central attacking role – the same berth that Greenwood has excelled in during the opening weeks of the new season.
With the Portugal icon expected to start most weeks, Greenwood is likely to be nudged out into a wide attacking role to accommodate Ronaldo.
But that isn’t exactly a nightmare scenario for the youngster.
Will Greenwood suffer or benefit from Ronaldo’s arrival? Comment below
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Even Solskjaer, who has been glowing of the teenager’s development over the past 18 months, feels that Greenwood is still “a few years away” from becoming United’s number nine.
“Maybe in the future he can play as a central striker, but I still think that’s a few years away. Being a centre-forward in the Premier League is probably the hardest position to play,” said Solskjaer earlier this year.
“At the moment, I think Mason is more suited to playing that wide role, dropping into pockets, finding space and running in behind.”
Greenwood’s electric start to the campaign has mainly come as a stand-in for Edinson Cavani in that central role and has perhaps threatening to defy Solskjaer’s past verdict.
But in United’s recent 1-0 win over Wolves, where Greenwood netted the winner, the England ace truly came alive when he was shifted to the right of a three-pronged attack.
The prospect of featuring in that role more often will do his chances of developing into United’s long-term striker no harm – especially with Ronaldo around.
Wherever he plays, if Greenwood can link up alongside Ronaldo, he gets the added benefit of learning from one of United’s greatest ever players.
You could probably count on one hand the number of players, if any, who’d be a better mentor than Ronaldo to prep Greenwood for a long-term future as United’s number nine.
One caveat of the scenario is that competition for a spot in the United front three, even in the wide areas, is fierce following the arrival of £73m man Jadon Sancho.
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There’s no doubt that a lack of game-time for Greenwood would be a blow – both for him and for Solskjaer’s ideology.
And there are no guarantees that won’t occur.
In fact, it’s almost certain that Greenwood will feature less than he would have done had the opportunity to recapture Ronaldo not presented itself.
But even simply being around someone with the championship pedigree of the Portuguese star is going to be huge for Greenwood’s future development.
The impact that Ronaldo can have on the teenager simply from being in his presence over the next two years is likely to far eclipse anything else.
And that’s why Greenwood can be the big winner from Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford – even if that may not appear to be the case initially.