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Cristiano Ronaldo has been handed an olive branch by Erik ten Hag as the Manchester United manager weighs up an emergency recall for his wantaway striker.
Only days after ripping into Ronaldo and others for their “unacceptable” early exit from a friendly and urging the Portugal striker to get fit and prove his worth, Ten Hag had softened his tone on Friday.
Insisting it had been wrong for people to single out Ronaldo for leaving Old Trafford 10 minutes before the end of last Sunday’s friendly against Rayo Vallecano when others had done similar, Ten Hag lauded the 37-year-old’s application in training this week and claimed he was “really happy” to have him at the club.
With Anthony Martial likely to be out for two to three weeks with a hamstring injury, Ten Hag has been handed a big selection dilemma ahead of United’s opening Premier League game against Brighton on Sunday and must decide whether to rush back Ronaldo.
Ronaldo wants to leave Old Trafford this summer and is weeks behind his team-mates in terms of fitness after missing all of the club’s pre-season tour for personal reasons. A 45-minute run-out against Vallecano - when he was also involved in a tense touchline exchange with Ten Hag - was his only pre-season outing.
But Martial’s absence has exposed United’s lack of attacking options and it remains to be seen if Ten Hag turns to Ronaldo to answer his SOS, drafts in youngster Anthony Elanga or opts to play an additional midfielder and use Bruno Fernandes as a false nine.
Asked if Ronaldo could be thrown into the starting XI, Ten Hag said: “We will see Sunday. I’m satisfied with the whole team, they are really working good, it’s good culture and also Cristiano is working really good, really tough and hard.
“I’m really happy [with Ronaldo], I told you before. We have a top striker, I’m really happy he’s here, he’s in the squad and we stick to the plan.”
Jamie Carragher: 'Ronaldo has acted as if he is bigger than the coach and even Manchester United'
Despite Ten Hag’s claims, Jamie Carragher, writing in his Telegraph Sport column, believes the United manager should tell the Old Trafford board to facilitate Ronaldo’s departure on a free transfer “for the greater good of Manchester United”.
“Since his return, Ronaldo has been treated and acted as if he is more important than the coach, and even bigger than Manchester United,” Carragher writes.
“It is damaging and undermining, casting a shadow over the early months of Ten Hag’s reign.
“Here we are heading into a new season and still all roads lead to Ronaldo. The obsession with Ronaldo and his future is eclipsing any positive momentum that usually follows a managerial appointment.
“The best way for Ten Hag to look to the future is to rid himself of the superstar who is clinging on to the glories of the past.”
'There were many players who left early but the spotlight is on Cristiano... that is not right'
United have yet to disclose which other players left the Vallecano game early - Diogo Dalot was the only player to be pictured leaving at the same time as Ronaldo but had not been in the matchday squad - but Ten Hag insisted it had been wrong to single out the striker.
“I have to point [out], those who left - there were many players who left but the spotlight is on Cristiano and that’s not right,” Ten Hag said. “Do your research and make out many players left, which is not correct. That was what was said. He [Ronaldo] was part of it. Once again, there were a lot of players.”
Ten Hag’s headaches extend beyond Ronaldo and injury concerns. United have still to sign Ten Hag’s primary transfer target Frenkie de Jong and now face the threat of Chelsea hijacking a deal for the Barcelona midfielder. But Ten Hag appeared to hint on Friday that it was De Jong or bust and that he would stick with what he has if United cannot get a deal for the Holland international over the line.
Asked if he could accept the transfer window closing without the holding midfielder he craves, Ten Hag said: “Then you work with the current squad and you develop players who are in your current squad. In this moment we have players in that position who have performed really well.
“You don’t need any player, you need the right player, that’s the point and what we're working for. If it’s not the right player, no, and I’m happy with the current squad. We need the right players.
“We want Frenkie? I don’t know. It’s about the right players and I cannot give comments on a player who is under contract at another club. If we have news, we will bring it.”