Pete Jenson for MailOnline

When Cristiano Ronaldo left Manchester United in 2009 he was still the FIFA World Player of the Year. If he joins them again next summer he is likely to do so having been knocked off the podium by Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez.

The club can go into nostalgia overdrive with one of their all-time greats back in the famous red shirt but the reality is they will be signing a different player. 

He still has the six-pack, but then so does Daniel Craig, and United wouldn’t want him running up and down the wing for them in the Premier League.

Cristiano Ronaldo looks away as Barcelona players celebrate their third goal during the 4-0 win over Madrid

Cristiano Ronaldo looks away as Barcelona players celebrate their third goal during the 4-0 win over Madrid

The 30-year-old cut a frustrated figure as Rafa Benitez's side were well beaten at the Bernabeu on Saturday

The 30-year-old cut a frustrated figure as Rafa Benitez’s side were well beaten at the Bernabeu on Saturday

Ronaldo will be 31 at the end of this season and he remains a supreme athlete and a phenomenal player but there will be key differences between Cristiano version 2016 and the Viva Ronaldo Old Trafford adored in 2009.

If United’s greatest need is pace in wide areas it would be important to take into account the fact that Ronaldo has lost much of that ability to go past people. 

And these driving sprints from deep are not as constant as they once were. Back in the 2011-12 season a video of him being out-paced by a 35-year-old heavyweight centre-back Sergio Ballesteros went viral and while it perhaps did not do him justice because Ballesteros came from an angle it was true that the speed that made helped make him so frightening to defenders was slightly on the wane. He’s no slouch, but you wouldn’t fancy him to get past Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin for example.

Earlier this year, Ronaldo collected the FIFA Ballon d'Or award for his achievements in Madrid 

Earlier this year, Ronaldo collected the FIFA Ballon d’Or award for his achievements in Madrid 

Former Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti built a team around Ronaldo and got the best out of the iconic forward

Former Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti built a team around Ronaldo and got the best out of the iconic forward

The dribbles have also been in steady decline too. In his first season at Madrid he managed 91 but last year he was down to 54. One of the reasons why Carlo Ancelotti got his greatest season out of him was that he built a team around him leaving him as close to the opposition’s goal as possible.

Whether he would even want to play wide would be another important question to answer. He likes being on the left of a front three because he can cut inside and shoot off of his right foot. 

Increasingly his goals come from him arriving in centre-forward territory and getting on the end of the crosses he once provided. For now he is still resisting the move to making centre forward his starting position.

Ronaldo's form has been hampered by James Rodriguez (pictured), Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale missing

Ronaldo’s form has been hampered by James Rodriguez (pictured), Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale missing

Welsh forward Bale (right) has missed large chunks of the season through injury

Welsh forward Bale (right) has missed large chunks of the season through injury

What has also changed – but in this case for the better – is his finishing. It was already sensational at United. He scored 28 goals in his last season and 42 in his penultimate. But the figures for Madrid are astounding. Only his first season at the club has he failed to score as many, or more, goals than games played.

The numbers have dipped in this campaign. This season he has failed to score in 10 games and in total only has eight in the league with five of those coming in the same game against Espanyol.

But the dip has far more to do with the absence during much of the season of James Rodriguez, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale through injury. The service line has been cut. 

Ronaldo scores one of his then-trademark free-kicks for Manchester United against Portsmouth in 2008    

Ronaldo scores one of his then-trademark free-kicks for Manchester United against Portsmouth in 2008    

Ronaldo celebrates the brilliant strike during a season in which he scored 46 goals for club and country

Ronaldo celebrates the brilliant strike during a season in which he scored 46 goals for club and country

The only question that would beg is: without such world-class providers would he find the back of the net so regularly at Old Trafford? Probably not but he remains one of football’s greatest ever finishers and a better header of the ball than perhaps anyone else in Europe.

The free-kick goals have also dried up – it’s now just two from more than 90 attempts. From the penalty spot he remains as devastating as ever, but it’s been a long time since he let go one of those dipping cannonballs that flew past David James against Portsmouth in 2008.

But get him in the area and give him a chance and he will take it. Up until the start of this season the goals-per-shots-on-target is one for every two.

There is no doubt United would be adding goals if they brought him back. Not everything would be the same though. Real Madrid might have something to say about that last statement. They want pretty much the £80million they paid for him six years ago.

 

 

 


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