Weak Champions League exit rounds off Man Utd’s miserable season
SOCCER: “We’re not good enough,” admitted Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea when confronted with the fact that the Red Devils will now go five years without winning a title.
Dejected duo Paul Pogba and Cristiano Ronaldo are leaving the pitch full-time. Photo: AFP
A 1-0 home defeat by Atletico Madrid yesterday (15 March) saw United crash out of the Champions League round of 16 and miss the last chance at the title of a miserable season.
The dejected reaction to the full-time whistle as Atletico manager Diego Simeone sprinted down the Old Trafford sideline to celebrate was in stark contrast to the jubilation that greeted Cristiano Ronaldo’s homecoming in September’s 4-1 win over Newcastle.
Ronaldo’s return to the club where he first made his mark as a global superstar should make all the difference when it comes to fighting for big trophies again.
After finishing second to Manchester City in the Premier League last season, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane had already been signed for over £100m (4.3bn baht) when Ronaldo snubbed City’s progress in the final days of August .
Instead of a return to the glory days Ronaldo enjoyed under Alex Ferguson before his then-world-record move to Real Madrid in 2009, he has succumbed to the slippage United have experienced since Ferguson left as manager in 2013.
Interim boss Ralf Rangnick is United’s fifth manager since the legendary Scot stepped aside at the club, which once boasted of being the best in the world, and are now being left behind by local rivals Manchester City and Liverpool.
Since Ferguson United led to a Champions League final for the third time in four years in 2011, they have spent £1.2bn on players to concede just two knockout games in European club football’s premier competition to win.
For the fifth consecutive season, United’s European season ended at the hands of Spanish opponents.
But this version of Atletico is a far cry from the teams that reached two finals in three years between 2014 and 2016 only to be thwarted by Ronaldo’s Real Madrid.
Just like United in the Premier League, Simeone’s men face a battle in the final months of the La Liga season only to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Still, they held out easily after Renan Lodi rounded off a well-crafted counterattack to open the scoring four minutes from half-time.
“It was clear to us that you had to score the first goal yourself against this team,” said Rangnick, who was aware of the limits of his own team.
Ronaldo has been Atletico’s scourge in the Champions League in recent years – he also scored hat-tricks to knock them out in 2017 for Real and 2019 at this stage for Juventus.
However, the competition’s all-time record goalscorer has been eliminated for the last three of the last 16 years.
The 37-year-old has finally shown his age in recent months, completing 90 minutes without registering a shot for the first time in the Champions League.
Whether Ronaldo stays at United for the second year of his contract depends heavily on whether they make it to the Champions League next season.
Still, cutting losses seems like the best solution for both parties as United face another expensive and major rebuild under a new manager.