Manchester United might have to face up to life without Cristiano Ronaldo less than a year after his triumphant return to Old Trafford.
It was hoped signing the five-time Ballon d’Or winner from Juventus might be the final piece in the puzzle for then-manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after United finished as Premier League runners-up in the 2020/21 season.
In reality, although Ronaldo helped himself to 18 top-flight goals, the Red Devils’ season collapsed. Solskjaer was sacked, interim boss Ralf Rangnick couldn’t halt the slide and they finished outside the Champions League places.
That latter predicament, according to The Times, is why the 37-year-old has asked to move on — wishing to spend his remaining years at the top level in Europe’s elite competition.
United’s rebuild under Erik ten Hag has been focused upon reinforcements in defence and midfield over recent weeks, meaning it can be assumed he was planning on working with Ronaldo irrespective of whether or not he was an easy fit within his tactical system.
Now, if Ronaldo follows Edinson Cavani out of the door, Ten Hag will need a new attacking focal point. We’ve had a look at a handful of players who could appear on the radar as realistic options.
La Repubblica reported on Monday that United had made contact with Argentina attacker Dybala’s representatives and there would be a certain irony if he replaced the player whose very presence appeared to derail his Juventus career.
Now a free agent, Dybala scored 115 goals in 293 appearances for Juve, although fitness woes were as much a factor in his decline as Ronaldo leading to him being shunted around the forward line for three seasons. Still only 28 and possessing undeniable quality, as well as being available for no transfer fee, he might be worth a punt even accounting for his injury troubles. Dybala has also been linked with Inter Milan, Arsenal and Tottenham, but each of those clubs have already brought in big-name forwards.
MORE: Cristiano Ronaldo latest transfer news and rumours: CR7 stays away from training and Man United are linked to Dybala
This is very much the dream option: replacing one of the elite goalscorers of the 21st century with another. Lewandowski has made no secret of his desire to leave Bayern Munich and seek a new challenge, with one year left on his contract. Barcelona are widely understood to be his preferred destination, although the La Liga giants’ ongoing financial strife could leave the door ajar for United to swoop in an propose the ultimate swap deal.
Barca’s reported interest in Ronaldo also counts as an intriguing plot twist. Still, the main problem here is the primary cause of Ronaldo’s discontent: even though he’s a few years younger at 33, Lewandowski probably doesn’t view this as a stage of his career to be spent outside the Champions League.
Livewire forward David scored 13 Ligue 1 goals as Lille claimed a stunning title triumph in France in 2020/21. He bettered that tally by two last time around and also scored three in eight Champions League outings. David’s eye-catching skill and searing pace is a problem for any defence and the prospect of him combining with an in-form Jadon Sancho as Bruno Fernandes and Christian Eriksen supply the ammunition is one to excite even the weariest United fan.
David has 20 goals in 30 caps for Canada and has the stage of a World Cup to display his talents on before the end of the year. It might be best to strike now, while Lille’s price remains reasonable, especially as Ten Hag is said to be keen to sign exactly this type of versatile forward who can play a number of roles.
MORE: Man United Transfer News: Latest on Frenkie de Jong, Christian Eriksen and other summer 2022 window player signings, loans & deals
Lewandowski and Manchester City-bound Erling Haaland were the two goalscoring giants in the Bundesliga last season, but nestled in between them in the final scoring charts was Bayer Leverkusen star Schick. The Czech Republic international built upon a superb Euro 2020 — and that goal against Scotland — by scoring 24 top-flight goals in 27 appearances, two more than Haaland but shy of Lewandowski’s fairly ludicrous 35.
A technically excellent target man with sharp movement, Schick finally appeared to have located the consistency that had previously eluded a player of such obvious promise. At 26, he is entering his prime years and could serve as much more than a stop-gap for United, making him worth investing a larger portion of their transfer budget.
The same age as Dybala, Belotti was also a man previously with huge transfer fees attached to his name for his exploits on the other side of Turin’s divide. The Torino hero is now a free agent and Monaco are reportedly closing in on securing his services.
Having never played in the Champions League or outside Serie A, he would represent a gamble but Belotti is a physically imposing number nine who knows where the net is. United could do worse than trying to sell him Salford Quays over Monte Carlo.
Okay, so this one might look mad on the face of it, but hear us out. Chelsea have been on the tail of Raheem Sterling for weeks now, while reports linking new Blues owner Todd Boehly to Ronaldo have emerged. What appears fairly certain is Germany forward Werner tumbling a rung or two down the pecking order at Stamford Bridge, even allowing for Romulu Lukaku’s departure to Inter.
If Ronaldo is keen on a move to the Kings Road, United could maybe see what they can get out of it. Werner’s stock has fallen on account of some wayward finishing in England, but an intelligent, hard-working, high-pressing and pacey forward would tick a fair few boxes for Ten Hag.