Cristiano Ronaldo salary cut if United miss Champions League
The hero had returned. Other star signings had been made. The investment was meant to have secured their place as a challenger at the very top of the table.
Everything looked so positive for fans of Manchester United in the summer ahead of the Premier League 2021/22. Major investment had been made in the playing squad, one that already boasted some of the best in the league, and a club legend had returned as the icing on the cake. Even media contributors had them as one of the favourites to take the title, finally getting them back to where they believe they belong.
United and Ronaldo striving for Champions League
But it hasn't exactly gone to plan. Ole Gunnar Solskjær was eventually let go as interim boss Ralf Rangnick was handed the chance of sorting out their season and ensuring a top four finish as an absolute minimum. The jury remains out.
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And if they were to fail to make that top four finish, it has more than just the implications of fans being without a place in the showpiece continental tournament next year and reducing the club's pulling power when it comes to signings. It would also hit some of their players in the pocket, most notably the hero who returned with big ambitions.
Reports are that the Portuguese forward could see his salary fall by up to 25% if the Red Devils are not in the Champions League for the 2022/23 campaign. And given that going into Saturday's game against top four rivals West Ham United they sat seventh with 35 points from 21 games, two points adrift of their fourth-placed opponents, but with a game in hand, it's far from clear that they will reach that goal. And it's a significantly diluted objective from the early season optimism.
The Rangnick and Ronaldo relationship
United interim boss Rangnick said Cristiano did not undermine his authority following the forward's angry reaction to being substituted at Brentford in the Premier League on Wednesday. The Portugal international did not look pleased after being taken off for Harry Maguire in the 71th minute as United secured a 3-1 win against the promoted side.
Speaking ahead of the Hammers clash, Rangnick said: "I don't blame him for that but obviously any manager would wish it shouldn't be too emotional.
"And also in front of the TV cameras, I don't think this will be for the benefit of anyone. It's an emotional game and players are emotional and I didn't take it personally at all."
Rangnick said Ronaldo had been known to react poorly to being taken off.
"I didn't at all see or interpret that he was challenging me," he added. "This was not the first time -- if you have a look at the moment when Sir Alex (Ferguson) replaced him or other coaches, his reaction was pretty similar."