Manchester United need to remember Sir Alex Ferguson’s quote with Cristiano Ronaldo

“See you again soon, Khabib!” the Manchester United Instagram account excitedly posted. Some inside Old Trafford for the Everton match would not have heard of Khabib Nurmagomedov and he may not be invited back.

Nurmagomedov, a retired mixed martial artist, uploaded a private conversation with Sir Alex Ferguson in the directors’ lounge onto his Instagram account. In the video, Ferguson questions Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s decision to bench Ronaldo for the draw.

The video is still on Nurmagomedov’s Instagram feed, albeit now without sound. Little matter. It has already been shotgunned over the internet with audio. Amid the background chatter, Ferguson’s Scottish rasp can be heard: “You should always start with your best player.”

In a fallow international week, it was an open goal. It did not need a disingenuous headline and it has applied more pressure on Solskjaer. Almost everyone in attendance would have disapproved of Ronaldo’s bench role and you could have guessed Ferguson’s thoughts. For it to be made public in the south stand sanctuary is embarrassing for United.

A club staff member once insisted United’s hobnobbing with celebrities was instigated by their camps rather than the club, which effectively confirmed it was the opposite. It does not matter if you’re A-list or Z-list, an invite to the Old Trafford directors’ box can easily be arranged, replete with personalised shirt. Robbie Williams’s best mate was such a beneficiary at the Newcastle game last month.

Paris Saint-Germain gladhand the glitterati and dress them in club garb for brand exposure. United don’t need to but have stooped to that level occasionally for umpteen reasons, principally social media numbers. Their ‘see you soon’ Nurmagomedov upload garnered over 800,000 likes and a separate post of multiple photographs of him with Ferguson, Usain Bolt and Patrice Evra was liked by almost two million users.

Next month, Richard Arnold, a man who stated that Odion Ighalo was the worldwide Twitter trend when he joined United, will chart the online engagement surrounding Ronaldo’s return and how many shirts he has sold. United’s social media feeds now seem focused on Ronaldo and they are feeding the monster.

Online, Ronaldo is far bigger than United. On Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, he boasts 600 million followers to United’s 151.5 million, at the time of writing. Ferguson jettisoned David Beckham and Roy Keane as he suspected those players thought they were bigger than the manager. Ronaldo stoops over Solskjaer like a giant atop a beanstalk and some figures at the club are watering it.

Solskjaer knew that when United hijacked Manchester City’s move for Ronaldo in late August. Paul Pogba is another player with a global profile that blows the United manager’s out of the water and that has not been an issue. Solskjaer has tactfully managed Pogba and elicited the best football from his career.

While Ronaldo’s achievements – and there seems to be one every week – ought to be celebrated, the online administrators are turning United into a one-man band. They are probably unaware of Ferguson’s maxim that ended the United careers of at least two greats, and subconsciously exerting more pressure on the manager.

“The minute a footballer becomes more important than the manager, your club is dead,” Ferguson insisted in his penultimate season. “The history of this club goes down the drain. I am the most important man at Manchester United. It has to be that way.”

Things change. Ronaldo saw off three managers in three years at Juventus and, when things turned sour with Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez in Madrid, he outlasted them. Goals and individual honours do not constitute success for Ronaldo. His career is defined by team honours and he has only endured two barren seasons in his club career since he first moved to United in 2003.

“He’s not signed to sit on the bench,” Solskjaer said ahead of Ronaldo’s homecoming. Ronaldo cannot start in every game but he was on the bench in only nine league games for United between 2006-09 and none of them were in October. Even Ferguson could not defend that.

Leave comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *.