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What are Cristiano Ronaldo’s options at Manchester United?

The Portuguese striker has started the season on the bench at Old Trafford; could he be on the move?

Roddy Cons
Portugal's forward Cristiano Ronaldo attends a training session on the eve of the UEFA Nations League football match between Portugal and Spain, at the Municipal Stadium in Braga on September 26, 2022. (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP) (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP via Getty Images)

Manchester United forward Cristiano Ronaldo this week confirmed his intention to carry on playing for at least another two seasons, setting his sights on leading out Portugal at Euro 2024 in Germany. But just where might the Champions League’s all-time leading goalscorer be playing his club football between now and then?

It is safe to say that Ronaldo’s return to the Premier League has not gone quite as well as he and the Red Devils would have hoped, despite a more than respectable goalscoring return in his first season back in Manchester.

Bloody nose | Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo receives medical attention against Czech Republic.
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Bloody nose | Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo receives medical attention against Czech Republic.Martin DivisekEFE

Troubles at Old Trafford

United not qualifying for this season’s Champions League led to a wage cut for the Portuguese and has been followed by a failure to push through a summer transfer and being left on the bench by new boss Erik Ten Hag in five of the club’s opening six Premier League fixtures this term.

What, then, could the future hold for a player that some regard as the best ever to have played the game?

Leave Manchester United in January

Ronaldo has been labelled ‘Mr Champions League’ in some quarters due to the incredible success he has enjoyed in the competition. Five Champions League trophies. 183 games. 140 goals. All records. The Champions League feels a little less Champions League without Ronaldo’s presence.

Could a January move to a club in this season’s competition be on the cards? The likes of Bayern Munich, Napoli and Chelsea – as well as arch-enemies Atlético de Madrid – showed different levels of interest in Ronaldo in the summer and will hope to have progressed to the knockout stages by the time the January transfer window comes around. They are also able to register three new players for the competition in winter.

With Ronaldo’s contract expiring in June 2023, he will be available for a reduced fee; how often does the chance to sign one of the game’s most legendary goalscorers on the (relative) cheap come around? Would he even be prepared to consider lowering his wage demands to continue his legacy in the competition for just a little longer?

Benched again | Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo getting used to being a substitute.
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Benched again | Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo getting used to being a substitute.PHIL NOBLEREUTERS

Leave Manchester United at the end of the season

The end of Ronaldo’s United deal may seem like the logical point for him to depart Old Trafford. Coming to the end of a playing contract at the age of 38 would mean retirement for many, but Cristiano Ronaldo has proved that he is no ordinary footballer. Having kept himself in incredible shape throughout his career, he has been backed by none other than his own mother to keep playing into his forties.

Signing Ronaldo on a free transfer may similarly be too good an opportunity for many clubs to turn down. And in the admittedly unlikely event that the United forward is prepared to give up on his Champions League ambitions, could he prepared to sign up for one last big pay-day – there was reported interest from Saudi Arabia in the summer – to sharpen his shooting skills in time for Euro 2024?

The good ol' days | Ronaldo with the 2019 Champions League trophy.
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The good ol' days | Ronaldo with the 2019 Champions League trophy.HANNAH MCKAYREUTERS

Stay at Manchester United for an extra year

The Red Devils have the option to extend the Portuguese’s contract by a year, which appears unlikely as things stand. Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial currently look to be ahead of Ronaldo in the queue to start as United’s central attacker, seemingly confirming the belief that Ten Hag prefers more mobile front men prepared to press from the front.

But the Dutchman has also made it clear that Ronaldo still has a part to play for him and has talked about the impact of the 37-year-old not having had a full pre-season, hinting at another reason for his lack of competitive starts. Ronaldo will get fitter and stronger as the season goes on and the sheer number of games United have to play means he will undoubtedly have chances to make an impact.

With the Old Trafford club improving after a poor start to the season, there is growing confidence that in 2023-24 they could make it back into the Champions League - Ronaldo’s promised land. What else would be more likely to make him stay?


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