Cristiano Ronaldo returned to Manchester United in the close season to much fanfare, promising to restore the Premier League titans to former glories, but, six months on, the veteran’s influence is dwindling as his club’s stock falls.
It all started so well for the Portuguese veteran after completing a dream return to the club where he won eight major trophies from 2003-2009.
Crucial, late goals in the Champions League at Old Trafford against Atalanta and Villarreal immediately got his adoring fans dreaming of a United renaissance, as he showed no sign of his 37 years having any effect at all.
The goals have, however, dried up. Ronaldo has now failed to score in any of his last six appearances in all competitions. The last time he had a longer spell without a goal at club level was a run of seven games in December 2008 and January 2009.
When he fails to find the net, the Champions League’s all-time top goalscorer does not offer much else, given his lack of willingness to press defenders, under a manager famed for his penchant for high intensity defending high up the pitch.
It was Groundhog Day for United fans against Southampton in the league on Saturday as they started brightly, creating plenty of chances, just as they had in their two previous games against Middlesbrough and Burnley, but then lost their touch.
Jadon Sancho found the net midway through the first half, but further missed chances again proved costly as Southampton snatched a 1-1 draw.
Against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup, Ronaldo missed a penalty and had nine other efforts at goal without scoring. He failed to find the net from a position he would normally have lapped up at Burnley, before being unable to score with an open goal at his mercy against Saints in the first half on Saturday.
“He would have wished to score, I would have too,” coach Ralf Rangnick said. “Today he had his chances, with one cleared off the line, and had good moments in the second half.
“Again, it is not only Cristiano but as a team we create enough chances but cannot score. It is a major problem.”
Another problem Rangnick has is how to best deal with an out-of-form Ronaldo, who insists on being the centre of attention.
On the rare occasion Ronaldo is substituted during a match, all the cameras are fixed on the Portuguese superstar, as the photographers know he will not take it well.
When taken off at Brentford last month, even with United holding a comfortable lead, he was visibly unhappy, and was seen in deep discussion with Rangnick on the bench. Ronaldo has not been replaced since.
Against Saints, Rangnick elected to leave Ronaldo on the pitch, perhaps wary of more media scrutiny, but given the forward’s struggles of late, such an approach had a detrimental effect on the team.
Reports in the British media have suggested Ronaldo may chose to leave at the end of the season, one year into his two-year deal.
An early departure would do serious harm to the marketing department at the club but on the evidence of recent displays on the pitch, giving up on trying to get Ronaldo to produce the goods he did as a young, hungry winger 15 years ago may be the most sensible approach for all concerned.