Athletic, new coach Erik ten Hag is bringing many bright spots to Man Utd but also faces a big problem named Cristiano Ronaldo.

Six friendlies, three wins, two draws, one loss and one trouble off the pitch, Man Utd ended the pre-season like that. Ronaldo ‘s early departure made his and Ten Hag’s problems more complicated.

Coach Erik ten Hag reminds Ronaldo (right) in a friendly match with Rayo Vallecano at Old Trafford on July 31.  Photo: MEN

Coach Erik ten Hag reminds Ronaldo (right) in a friendly match with Rayo Vallecano at Old Trafford on July 31. Photo: MEN

Ronaldo did not participate in Man Utd’s tour of Thailand and Australia for “family reasons”. On July 31, he started his first match under Erik ten Hag, a friend against Rayo Vallecano. The 37-year-old striker was substituted at halftime, then left Old Trafford before the game was over. Diogo Dalot joins Ronaldo, but the defender is not on the match registration list.

Last week, Ronaldo returned to Man Utd but kept his opinion that he wanted to join a club that attended the Champions League. He still trains and plays with Man Utd, but his agent Jorge Mendes is trying to find a new destination for his client. CR7 even wants the team to liquidate the contract, to freely negotiate with the new club. And the leaders of Man Utd still do not want the Portuguese superstar to leave.

Ronaldo’s problem has affected the optimism that Ten Hag has instilled in the Man Utd dressing room since he arrived this summer. On the field, Ronaldo’s presence also affected the Dutch coach’s new football philosophy.

A few days before the match, Ronaldo wrote on social networks : “Sunday, the king plays”. It is true that he played on Sunday. When his name was called before the game, applause interspersed with boos echoed throughout Old Trafford.

Ronaldo just returned to Carrington headquarters on July 28, taking a day to check his health and then practice separately. Three days later, he played his first game and being substituted after 45 minutes was not difficult to understand.

Before Rayo Vallecano, Ronaldo mainly dropped deep to receive the ball and deployed it up front. The all- time top scorer missed a good chance, losing the ball several times in a lackluster display.

Situation Ronaldo missed the opportunity in the match against Vallecano.  Photo: Reuters

Situation Ronaldo missed the opportunity in the match against Vallecano. Photo: Reuters

There was a situation where 18-year-old striker Alejandro Garnacho dribbled from the left side and cut in the middle. The strikers often try to rush down to wait for Garnacho’s breakthrough. But Ronaldo just stood in one place, gesturing for the ball.

Reluctantly, the young Argentine striker had to cross, then Ronaldo passed again and lost the attack rhythm. That situation shows that Man Utd’s attack is divided by prestige level, in stark contrast to Ten Hag’s concept that all players are equal.

On the other side of the front line, former Man Utd striker Radamel Falcao played even more prominently. The Colombian striker actively moved into the space between and behind the two Man Utd central defenders. In this way, Falcao opens up space for Rayo Vallecano players in front of Man Utd goal. He is still ready to take on that role at the age of 36, through two broken knee ligaments and dozens of injuries of all kinds.

Ten Hag still wants to keep Ronaldo – understandable when Man Utd have few attacking players. In addition to him, only Anthony Martial often plays as a central striker. Striker Jadon Sancho was also injured and missed the last two friendlies. Martial, Sancho and Marcus Rashford are expected to be Man Utd’s three main attacking players next season, but they are not always in good shape.

Before the final whistle sounded, Ronaldo went outside Old Trafford and stopped to sign autographs for fans. Man Utd did not announce whether they had allowed him to leave first. Usually, the players will stay in the dressing room to learn from the game, or listen to the coach’s reminders.

In the post-match interview, MUTV did not ask Ten Hag about Ronaldo’s early return. He only briefly talked about the current physical condition of his students: “Ronaldo is not at the same level as his teammates, because he has missed weeks of training. He needs to practice and play more matches. But what I am less worried about. The biggest fear about Ronaldo is his fitness, because he is very professional.”

Ronaldo is still the most experienced striker Man Utd, and also has the best scoring ability. But to compete for the official position next season, he must meet the tactical requirement of Ten Hag.

Ronaldo is more of a football icon than a player. CR7’s influence in the world contrasts with his status at Old Trafford.

And this problem does not look like it will be resolved before Man Utd opens the new season with a welcome to Brighton on August 7.