Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag reiterated his stance that Cristiano Ronaldo will remain at Old Trafford despite the five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s desire to leave for Champions League football. Ronaldo missed the majority of United’s pre-season preparations with the club excusing him from a tour of Asia and Australia for family reasons.
The 37-year-old did return for a 1-1 friendly draw against Rayo Vallecano last weekend. However, he made headlines again for leaving Old Trafford before the end of the game. Ten Hag described that act as “unacceptable”, but also rounded on the media for focusing on Ronaldo when other players also left the stadium before full-time.
“I told you before, we plan with the season (with him). We have a top striker and I’m really happy he’s here, he’s in the squad and we stick to that plan,” said Ten Hag at his pre-match press conference ahead of his first competitive game as United boss at home to Brighton tomorrow.
“There were many players who left, but the spotlight is on Cristiano and that is not right. I’m satisfied with the whole team. There is a good culture and Cristiano is working really tough and hard.”
After a disastrous campaign in which United finished sixth in the Premier League last season, an overhaul of the squad was expected over the summer. Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani, Jesse Lingard, Nemanja Matic and Juan Mata have departed after their contracts expired, but the Red Devils start the season with only three new signings – Lisandro Martinez, Tyrell Malacia and Christian Eriksen.
A prolonged chase of Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong, who starred previously under Ten Hag at Ajax has so far proved fruitless. “It’s about the right players,” added Ten Hag on the relative lack of transfer activity. “I cannot give comments on a player who is under contract in another club. When we have news, we will bring it.”
Meanwhile, Manchester United will be without forward Anthony Martial for Premier League opener against Brighton due to a minor injury, but new signings Eriksen and Lisandro Martinez could start, Ten Hag said.
Martial scored three goals in friendlies in the pre-season after returning from his loan spell at Sevilla, and Ten Hag is hoping the Frenchman will shake off the problem quickly. It is always difficult to say with these injuries, but hopefully not too long,” Dutchman said.
Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho will be hoping to get their United careers back on track. Rashford’s slump in form led to him being dropped from the England squad. But he is feeling the benefits of a summer without international commitments.
“This is my first year I have been with the team since the beginning (of pre-season),” said Rashford. “I feel a lot better than usual, when I go away with the nationals and come back partway through pre-season. It is important to get a fresh start. I feel fresh and ready.”
Sancho also struggled to live up to his £73mn price tag in his first season at United, but he has teamed up well with Rashford and Martial in a pre-season, that included a 4-0 victory over Liverpool.
Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo (third right) trains with teammates yesterday ahead of the Premier League match against Brighton.