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SOCCER

Ten Hag to be Cristiano Ronaldo’s teacher and friend” at United

Cristiano Ronaldo will be treated the same as any Manchester United star by Erik ten Hag this season, the manager says.

Update:
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 02: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Cristiano Ronaldo and Casemiro of Manchester United in action during a first team training session at Carrington Training Ground on September 02, 2022 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images)
Ash DonelonGetty

Erik ten Hag says he will act as both “friend” and “teacher” for Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United this season. Portugal superstar Ronaldo has remained at Old Trafford despite reportedly wanting out during the summer transfer window due to the club’s failure to qualify for the Champions League this season. Rumours continued to swirl right up until deadline day but Ronaldo, who returned for a second spell from Juventus in August 2021, was part of the squad that defeated Leicester City 0-1 – coming off the bench in Thursday’s win.

“[He stayed], as we said. It’s really early in the season and we have a squad and we have more than starting 11 players and that is what you see now,” Ten Hag said. “Players who are now on the bench can play in one, two or three weeks.”

One start in five games

Ronaldo’s solitary start from five Premier League appearances this season came in the embarrassing 4-0 drubbing at Brentford last month. Since that humiliating defeat at the Bees, United earned a 2-0 triumph over fierce rivals Liverpool and followed up with back-to-back 1-0 victories over Southampton and Leicester. Part of the reason for Ronaldo’s lack of starts can be attributed to the fact he missed much of pre-season due to a family issue. For United boss Ten Hag, Ronaldo will be treated the same as any other player depending on the situation.

“I will be his friend, sometimes I will be his teacher. It depends on the situation,” he added. “But, as we all know, he didn’t have the pre-season and you cannot miss the pre-season. It is a base, especially in the game we play, the way of play. We play another type in comparison with last year. It depends on the demands, cooperation and it demands certain positioning, in and out of position, and the other thing is fitness.”

Gunners test

United face Arsenal on Sunday with Ten Hag having a few decisions to ponder, including Casemiro – a transfer-window signing from Real Madrid – pushing for a first start. Forward Antony arrived in a big-money deal from Ajax on deadline day too, with some pundits questioning the reported €95m fee. Defenders Lisandro Martínez (Ajax) and Tyrell Malacia (Feyenoord) also joined from the Eredivisie, and Ten Hag has no fears about any of the trio’s ability to adapt to the Premier League.

“First the players who we signed are internationals for their countries,” said the coach, who also arrived from the Eredivisie having left Ajax. “They performed really well in the Champions League and thirdly looking at their individual skills they are capable of playing high-intensity football, the players we selected and recruited.”

Martínez could have been lining up against United on Sunday with Arsenal having been credited with an interest in the Argentine defender. Having come under scrutiny following the Brentford setback, Martinez has excelled and won United’s Player of the Month award for August but Ten Hag is confident there is more to come.

“Yes, I wanted him, he’s ball-playing but also you see his defending capabilities,” Ten Hag said of Martínez. “His toughness, his positioning, his anticipation and togetherness. I know what he is able to do. This is a base. He is doing well but he has to do much better.”

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