Cristiano Ronaldo transfer options: Where could the Manchester United star go
For the second time in less than a year, Cristiano Ronaldo is available for hire. And for the second time in less than a year, it’s going to take some top maneuvering to conjure the kind of move that will appease the aging goal machine.
Ronaldo’s romantic and nostalgic return to Manchester United unfolded as plenty expected it would. He scored his share of goals, including a slew of clutch ones and a handful on the Champions League stage—his six matched those of Kylian Mbappé and Darwin Núñez, for what it’s worth. He has been great for social media engagement. His presence has sold a lot of jerseys, attracted a lot of eyeballs and emitted a chorus of “SIUUU!” chants from the Stretford End. And yet United finished sixth in the Premier League, was bounced from the Champions League in the round of 16 and is Europa League–bound this season.
And those results were just about fair. Man United was sorely flawed, and the lack of management stability and the failed Ralf Rangnick project certainly didn’t help. United’s relative mediocrity was not Ronaldo’s fault. But then again, he, at 36, was not the panacea to its problems. His individual abilities and needs, as has been well-documented, can hamper a team’s desire to play collectively with a progressive structure. Erik ten Hag has been brought in from Ajax to manage the club, and he appears to have a clear vision for it, but Ronaldo is a year older and evidently has little desire to be part of a long- or even medium-term project. It’s no wonder that he is reportedly eyeing the Old Trafford exit in search of a club that’s in the Champions League this season and can challenge for titles with him as a centerpiece right now.
The problem for Ronaldo, just months out of what could be his final World Cup, is that there really aren’t that many options that fit the bill. Browse through the clubs qualified for this season’s Champions League out of the top leagues in Europe, and it doesn’t take much to rule out the vast majority. Between stylistic and tactical fits and positional needs, there just aren’t going to be clubs of the stature that Ronaldo would consider joining lining up to buy a (pricey) ticket to the Cristiano Show.
Bayern Munich could be in need of reinforcements up top if it breaks its resistance and sells Robert Lewandowski to Barcelona, but it has already ruled itself out of the supposed Ronaldo sweepstakes. Club director Oliver Kahn told German outlet Kicker this week that, “As highly as I rate Cristiano Ronaldo as one of the greatest, a transfer wouldn’t be a fit with our philosophy.” Given how Bayern prefers to spend on younger talent and given how manager Julian Nagelsmann prefers to high press, that’s about right.
Elsewhere, PSG is at its capacity of star forwards who are pressing-optional, and with Mbappé staying put—and with new manager Christophe Galtier preferring Neymar stay as well—it would make no sense. Man City, which was reportedly in the mix to sign Ronaldo last summer before Man United dramatically entered the race, just landed Erling Haaland, and, again, Ronaldo doesn’t fit the mold of a Pep Guardiola striker.
Liverpool’s front line is set after Núñez’s arrival, Luis Díaz and Diogo Jota’s emergence and Mohamed Salah’s long-term commitment, and—sensing a trend here?—Ronaldo hardly fits the bill of a Jürgen Klopp forward anyway.
Scroll to Continue
What about returning to Italy? A reunion with Juventus isn’t in the cards, especially after Dušan Vlahović’s emergence in Turin; Inter Milan just brought Romelu Lukaku back to be its leading striker; and AC Milan is set in its attack as well (and can you imagine the combustible nature of a locker room forced to balance the egos of both Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimović?). Could Napoli be a fit? The club is reportedly interested, and president Aurelio De Laurentiis claims Ronaldo was offered to Napoli before he joined Juventus in 2018. Selling Ronaldo, who remains under contract for another season, abroad is likely to be the preferred choice for Manchester United, so there could be something to it, but it would likely require a jolt to the club’s wage structure that might not be so desirable.
Could Ronaldo go back to Spain? Real Madrid just won La Liga and the Champions League without him and has no need or desire to shake up its dynamic. Hypothetically joining Barcelona or Atlético Madrid would do severe damage to his legacy at the Bernabéu, to say nothing of how those clubs either can’t afford him, don’t need him or can’t seamlessly integrate him.
That realistically leaves Chelsea and Sporting CP, the latter being his boyhood club in his native Portugal. Sporting, if we’re being honest, isn’t winning the Champions League, and a Primeira Liga title is unlikely to be at the top of the priority list for a player reportedly chiding Man United’s lack of ambition. If Ronaldo is not eyeing a symbolic ride into the sunset, then a return home isn’t happening right now.
So what about Chelsea? New Blues owner Todd Boehly reportedly met with Ronaldo’s agent, Jorge Mendes, last week. There’s a need, with Lukaku off to Inter and little in the way of a consistent, more standard striker behind him. Boehly has made it clear that he’s looking to follow in Roman Abramovich’s footsteps by spending big and making a splash. Thomas Tuchel’s pressing preferences could pose a problem, as the manager has made it clear he has no problem publicly confronting star players with whom he clashes.
And then there’s the issue of Man United selling domestically, potentially strengthening a Big Six rival while getting little value in return aside from salary relief and a potential distraction removed. Unless United can pry a sizable fee from Chelsea to make it a sound business decision—or the right players in return to make it a sound sporting decision—there’s little motivation for the club to sell to another English power. Ronaldo may want out, but it’s United that holds the cards and has the leverage. And unfortunately for the transcendent talent, for a second straight summer, there are not a whole lot of outs to satisfy his wishes.
More Soccer Coverage:
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.