Manchester United’s array of recruitment options up top may have been trimmed down by one after Juventus secured Champions League qualification courtesy of both themselves beating Bologna and Napoli’s slip-up on Sunday night.
Cristiano Ronaldo has once again been heavily linked with a return to Old Trafford, having left United back in 2009 to join Real Madrid in a then world record-breaking transfer.
And it was claimed this month by The Athletic that the Portugal international, who only joined Juve for £99million in 2018, might be on the move again this summer.
Staff at United are said to be monitoring his situation with it claimed a failure to qualify for Ronaldo’s favourite tournament the Champions League, in which he has scored a record 134 times goals in 176 games, would trigger his exit plans.
Yet while it was also suggested he could still leave even with a top-four finish, Ronaldo is now much more likely to see out the final year of his lucrative £30m-a-year contract.
The 36-year-old ended the season with a Serie A high 29 goals in 33 games – becoming the first player ever to be the top scorer in Italy, Spain and England’s top-flights – and across all competitions managed 40 direct goal contributions in 44 appearances, although he didn’t find the net against Bologna.
That was because Ronaldo was an unused substitute for Juve’s final league match. Outsiders might read that and believe it indicates his future is unclear – but Andrea Pirlo said others.
The Juve boss explained post-match: “It was a shared decision, Ronaldo was tired after Wednesday’s game, so I decided to start [Alvaro] Morata, another great player.
“Ronaldo was available, I have a deep squad, and I can pick many different players.”
Ronaldo didn’t need to come from the bench as Juve ran out 4-1 winners, with Napoli’s 1-1 draw at home to Hellas Verona allowing them to snatch fourth spot.
And Pirlo had also said before the Bologna game that he was confident Ronaldo would stick around in Turin.
“I see him still in the Bianconero jersey and focused,” Pirlo said. “He proved it the other night, sacrificing himself because he wanted to win the Coppa Italia. I see him focused on tomorrow, then there’s time to discuss the rest.”
Now, with Juve assured of being in the European Cup next term, surely both the player and the club will want to have one last go at ending their 25-year-plus wait for continental glory.
Ronaldo would have to take a significant wage cut to leave the Italian heavyweights and the tax rules in his current place of home means he will keep much of his huge income if he remains there.
Provided he remains as important for Juve next season as he has been this term, then why quit? Ronaldo may feel it’s time for another new challenge or he might feel the club can’t match his ambitions under Pirlo (though he’s not guaranteed to remain in charge anyway).
But a mutual parting of ways seems far more probable in the summer of 2022, when he will become a high-profile free agent.
But Ronaldo’s availability might have swayed them to abandon plans to sign a Kane or a Sancho given how tempting it would be to recruit a player of such pedigree over their younger alternatives.
In the long-term, it certainly makes the most sense on and off the pitch to go for one of the two England internationals, but members of the boardroom might have backed a swoop for Ronaldo given his status as a club legend and as one of the game’s all-time greats.
Ronaldo has shown his enduring quality with his continually-high goalscoring return but there is no doubt that will soon have to slow down as his body begins to feel the wear and tear of his illustrious career.
Now though, Solskjaer and co. might be spared the decision, and they will be left free to pick who their summer priority will be between Kane and Sancho, with such a call then expected to shape their potential options at centre-half.
Kane would cost £150m-plus as well as signing-on fees and huge wages while Sancho would be available at around £80m and on a cheaper, but still significant, salary. The wide-man is not yet at the level of his countryman, however.
It’s an unenviously tough decision for United, who don’t have the finances just to sign both, but if they don’t have to also take Ronaldo’s future into consideration, at least it’s a decision made slightly easier.