FM 16 Stories: How Good Would Manchester United Be If Ronaldo Returned?
0share We all know how painstakingly boring Man Utd have been this season. They
We all know how painstakingly boring Man Utd have been this season. They can’t score, they don’t create chances and they look a far-cry from the United of old. Since Cristiano Ronaldo left, the Red Devils have won just two league titles, no FA Cups and no Champions League medals in that time either. They won the League Cup in 2010, but it can’t be denied – their status as European heavyweights has painfully diminished. The glory days are long gone. Or are they?
With the help of the FM Editor tool, we put Cristiano Ronaldo on Manchester United to see how good they would become. The league title was the target, but a Champions League triumph would do. Coming up trophyless wasn’t an option.
It’s already a strong squad including one of Europe’s best Wonderkids (Anthony Martial), the Premier League’s best goalkeeper (David De Gea), the world’s best/second best player (Cristiano Ronaldo). I opted for a 4-2-4 wide formation with Ronaldo and Memphis Depay cutting in as inside forwards to support Martial and Wayne Rooney. I went for a fluid style of play to allow my front-four the utmost freedom, whilst behind them would be Ander Herrera and Morgan Schneiderlin, who would be protected by Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, Chris Smalling and Matteo Darmian, with De Gea in goal.
Signing anyone wasn’t necessary given that Manchester United already had a good enough squad to dominate on FM, and that’s before we brought Ronaldo back to Old Trafford. There would be a few exceptions however, if a key player got a long-term injury or if someone wanted to move elsewhere, a replacement would be drafted in at some point. The board put it to me straight; win the league, get to the final of the FA Cup, semi-finals of Champions League, at the very least.
No pressure then.
The season kicked off with a 1-1 draw away to Spurs with Ronaldo scoring on his second homecoming. That was followed by a resounding 4-0 win at home to Everton. In the Champions League play-off, we faced a nostalgic (for Ronaldo) trip to Sporting Lisbon, sandwiched between a not-so-easy trip to St James Park. The first leg, away in Lisbon, and Ronaldo ran absolute riot against his former club, scoring a hat-trick en route a 5-0 demolition, with Rooney adding two of his own. We won the last two games in August against Sporting (4-2) Aston Villa (3-1), and ended the transfer window with no incomings, and no outgoings.
Rooney started the season in fine form and thriving off Ronaldo’s return, with four goals and six assists in just four starts, and an average rating of 8.22. Ronaldo on the other hand had five goals in four games with one assist as we began to gather momentum.
We then beat Watford, Stoke, Hull (League Cup) and Crystal Palace to remain first and in good spirits, but lost to Wolfsburg in the Champions League; which if nothing else, was the dose of humility the team were crying out for. Memphis turned up to training in a new yellow Lamborghini Huracan and tried to park in my parking spot. He did this for a week straight despite me having a word with him, so mysteriously out of nowhere, all four his tyres were slashed that Friday and he never parked in my parking spot again.
We drew the Manchester derby, which was followed by another lacklustre 1-0 win at home to Lazio in the CL, before a match at home to Arsenal, won 1-0. Two games later, we once again had another big game to deal with, this time against Liverpool away, which we drew. The League Cup quarters threw us Arsenal (H), which was a blessing in disguise, as the team knew that if we could overcome this challenge, the hardest team left in the cup was West Ham:
We won our next few Champions League games and also saw off Chelsea and Arsenal (League Cup QF), which meant we were comfortably first after 14 games.
Young was complaining hard about his ‘lack of first’ team football, despite him starting nine of the 23 games this season, appearing 15 times in total. He mentioned possibly leaving in January so I dropped him. I couldn’t have half-hearts in this team. My name’s not David Moyes. We beat Arsenal but then lost to Bournemouth 2-0, but if you look at the bigger picture, nine wins from 11 games is quite the return, so I was quite pleased. Martial was going through a goal-drought of 15 hours and it was now time to drop him for the almighty James Wilson.
Wilson repaid me with a goal immediately against Wolfsburg, his fifth goal in five Champions League matches, which helped us secure top spot in our group.
Despite scoring 22 goals and adding four assists in 29 games, Ronaldo could only manage to make the World Team Of The Year substitutes. He didn’t come top three in the Ballon d’Or (which Eden Hazard ended up winning), there was no Puskas nomination, no widespread recognition. No anything. Just a substitute appearance on the same Team of the Year he used to headline. It was a bitter pill for him to swallow. He came into my office and asked me bluntly if I thought he was past it. I didn’t want to lie so I changed the conversation and subtly re-assured him of the clubs fruitful links with the MLS clubs we had in place.
I had something of a mini reshuffle as Marouane Fellani and Young tried to force through moves elsewhere in January, along with Michael Carrick. Fellani was sold for £9m to Chelsea, Young returned to Watford for £5m whilst Carrick moved to Real Madrid for £500k. That left us with a few holes which I needed to fill. Replacing Young would be Demarai Gray who signed for £5m and I also signed Dele Alli for £21m to replace Carrick and Fellani. I was also becoming more and more impressed with the form of Wilson, who was consistenly scoring off the bench. We beat Bristol City 10-2 on aggregate to reach the League Cup final and had also won five of the month’s 7 games. A defeat away to Everton and draw to Spurs allowed Arsenal to make some ground in the title race. However, I was dumped out of the FA Cup at the hands of Ipswich, which may not be telling now, but later on in the season, could prove to be part of my downfall. Martial went through a goal drought like he did in real life too
We drew the next Manchester derby once again but more importantly lost Wayne Rooney (two weeks) and Juan Mata (six weeks) ahead of the second leg against Leverkusen, where we had to over-turn a two goal deficit.
A 7-0 win was followed up with three draws against Arsenal, Leicester and Sunderland, as well as a defeat at home to Liverpool. Our next game? The first leg of our Champions League quarterfinal clash against Chelsea, which was drawn. We beat West Brom 3-0 that weekend then saw off Chelsea 3-0 at home with ease, before facing them again away from home in the league.
The next four games produced good news, and bad news. The good news was that we negotiated our safe passage to the Champions League final, but the bad news was the title was basically Chelsea’s, following a terrible run of results.
The next four games (including the title-decider) would produce just one-win, but crucially, that was a 2-0 win over PSG in the first-leg of the Champions League semi-finals, which was enough to get us to the final. So we finished second and had one more piece of business to take care of – the Champions League final against Arsenal, and which we were without Cristiano Ronaldo for, who was injured for between three to five weeks.
We did it. 2-1 was the final score and elation spread around Manchester as we won our CL trophy courtesy of an Antonio Valencia 90th minute winner.
So there you have it, Ronaldo couldn’t help Manchester United domestically. We came third in the league and got knocked out of the FA Cup in the fourth round. We won the League Cup but who really cares? The reason? A horrible run of six wins in the 17 games after we won the League Cup, with just two of those wins coming in the league.
Two league wins since the start of March is relegation form, and would’ve surely got me sacked if we didn’t win a fourth Champions League title. My player of the season was James Wilson, who stepped up brilliantly to fill-in when needed and proved he can cut it at this level when given a chance:
So how did Ronaldo do?
Consider this, Ronaldo scored 17 league goals in 36 games which qualifies as his joint-second most prolific season at Manchester, but still a long way off the form he showed at Real Madrid.
Although, the players around Ronaldo didn’t exactly light the league up with their creativity, as there wasn’t a single Manchester United player in the league’s top assist charts.
All in all, Ronaldo gave the place a lift. He made us all better and his goals were crucial. His ten goals in the Champions League were everything to us before he got injured. But he wasn’t prolific like he was in Spain. 37 goals and 12 assists in 55 games was still better than Messi’s return of 29 goals and 14 assists in 56 games for Barcelona. So there is that.