The Red Devils and their new talisman got off to a perfect start against Newcastle United, but do they now find themselves under pressure?
Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford as a Manchester United went perfectly on Saturday, as the returning superstar scored twice in a 4-1 victory over Newcastle United.
It was an emotional affair at the Theatre of Dreams, as one of the Red Devils’ favoured sons returned to the club where he truly became a global icon after 12 years.
In the intervening years, Ronaldo has gone from being one of the finest talents of his generation to being one of the greatest footballers of all time.
During the international break, he became the all-time top scorer in international football, and has amassed 180 caps with Portugal, with whom he was a European champion in 2016.
During nine years with Real Madrid, he won the Spanish title twice and four Champions League winner’s medals, and followed that up with a pair of Serie A titles with Juventus.
However, his rise to the pinnacle of the game truly began at Manchester United, with whom he won four Premier League titles and the Champions League in 2008 after signing from Sporting Lisbon.
Yet Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford—as discussed in the latest episode of African Football HQ—raises expectation for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United.
Last term, they finished second in the league and reached the Europa League final, but following an exciting summer of investment—including Ronaldo’s ex-Real teammate Raphael Varane and England forward Jadon Sancho—will the Red Devils now be expected to maintain a credible title challenge and enjoy a deep run in the Champions League?
Certainly, Solskjaer oversaw over nine months of improvement in the run-up to the Europa League final, but there will be questions now about whether that organic trajectory can continue, or if United need to take a giant leap in their route back to the Premier League crown.
The Norwegian coach was there during the club’s glory days under Sir Alex Ferguson—and notably the treble triumph of 1999—and he’s acutely aware of the demands that accompany the job, particularly following the arrival of Ronaldo.
“You feel under pressure all the time,” Solskjaer told ESPN earlier this year. “At this club, with this responsibility, it’s not just clinging onto your job; it’s about the responsibility that’s in my hands.
“We’ve got millions of fans, the players, the club, the staff… and the responsibility is on getting results,” he added. “As long as you get results and improve, that’s what I felt that we’ve improved all the time…as long as you can see improvement.
“We’ve gone from third to second [in the Premier League] and a lot closer in points, we’ve gone from three semi-finals to a final and one kick away from winning so it’s about taking the next step now. That’s the challenge.”