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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reveals biggest ‘problem’ with managing Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United

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Football

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Former Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says the decision to bring Cristiano Ronaldo back to Old Trafford proved to be a mistake for all parties as it required him to change how he asked his team to play.

Ronaldo made a sensational return to Manchester United in August 2021, with his former team-mate Solskjaer in charge of the club. But after a second placed finish the previous season, Solskjaer was sacked within three months of signing the 37-year-old Ronaldo from Juventus and following a run of heavy defeats.

There would be further problems after Solskjaer’s exit, with Ronaldo’s second-spell at the club ending in dramatic and acrimonious fashion after giving an explosive interview to Piers Morgan in which he hit out at new boss Erik ten Hag.

Speaking to former United team-mates Gary Neville and Roy Keane on Stick to Football, Solskjaer revealed that he was unable to play the same pressing style with Ronaldo in the team. He also said the Portuguese brought “complications”, such as when he reacted negatively to dropping to the bench despite asking Solskjaer to rest him every fourth game.

Solskjaer said United got caught up with the decision to sign Ronaldo and, although he believed it was the right decision at the time, he quickly realised that it meant his team were unable to play in the same way with the five-time Ballon d’Or winner in the team.

“It was a very quick decision [to sign Ronaldo],” Solskjaer said on the Stick to Football show. “We didn’t think Cristiano was available and that he was going to move. When it became apparent that he was leaving Juventus, obviously there were other clubs that wanted him – but I was excited.

“They [United] asked me, ‘Would you want us to try this?’. I said yes. Obviously we know Cristiano is quality, and he’s 37, but we have to manage – he’s the best goal scorer in the world. It didn’t work out for me, it didn’t work out for Cristiano, but it was the right decision at the time.

Solskjaer suffered a number of heavy defeats after signing Ronaldo

(Getty Images)

“We started off straight away thinking how we are going to press and change the little tweaks. Cristiano is different to Antony Martial who was up front, or whether we would play Mason [Greenwood] or Marcus [Rashford] up front. Edinson Cavani was the one that suffered the most when Cristiano came in – we’d played and got Edinson into a certain way of understanding the way we played.

“Cristiano, when you know him and speak to him, he wanted to play three out of four games, he realised he’s getting older as well. But when you leave him out once, he’s not happy!

“With the ball, with him in the team, it was no problem. Without him, we had to change a little bit the different roles we’d gotten used to. We were one of the highest pressing teams before. We let Dan James go when Cristiano came in, and they’re two different types of players. It was the right decision to make for me. It didn’t turn out to be the right one.”

Solskjaer dropped Ronaldo for the first time in the Premier League ahead of a home fixture against Everton at Old Trafford, with the forward coming on as a substitute in the 1-1 draw. Ronaldo was furious after the final whistle and stormed down the tunnel, but Solskjaer said most of the problems with his behaviour came after he was sacked.

Ronaldo effectively burned his bridges with United when he gave an explosive interview to Piers Morgan before the World Cup in November 2022, hitting out at manager Ten Hag and the club’s owners. He left United by mutual agreement just days later and completed a move to Al-Nassr in Saudi Arabia the following month.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær was speaking on the Stick to Football podcast, brought to you by Sky Bet

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