4 possible landing spots for Ronaldo amid transfer speculation
Here we go again.
For the second consecutive summer, Cristiano Ronaldo is attempting to engineer a transfer. Having bolted from Italy to rejoin Manchester United just one year ago, the Portuguese star is now reportedly looking to leave Old Trafford after a disappointing campaign in which the Red Devils failed to secure Champions League football.
The timing of his request isn’t particularly helpful – United could have done with a couple extra months to sanction a sale and seek a replacement – but his departure could end up being a blessing for all parties involved. Ronaldo’s fit within the squad has been a point of extreme contention since his return, and a rebuilding team under new manager Erik ten Hag would probably benefit from a more holistic approach instead of relying on an aging Ronaldo to be the focal point of an attack that needs rejuvenation.
Publicly, both the club and manager remain adamant United won’t sell the 37-year-old. Privately, though, the message is likely very different.
Some of the rumored destinations for Ronaldo have serious flaws for various reasons: He will almost certainly not join Napoli or Roma, return to Sporting CP, or move to Major League Soccer. Meanwhile, Manchester City – who were linked to Ronaldo last year – now have Erling Haaland. With that in mind, here are four other landing spots that could make sense if the decorated forward gets his desired transfer before the Sept. 1 deadline.
If he really is going to leave Manchester United – don’t count out a change of heart just yet – this seems like the most likely option at the moment, regardless of Chelsea’s impending deal for Raheem Sterling.
Jorge Mendes, Ronaldo’s renowned agent, is making the rounds to convince one of Europe’s top clubs to sign his client. Mendes reportedly met with new Chelsea co-owner Todd Boehly last month to discuss the prospect of Ronaldo swapping Manchester for London. Boehly, temporarily in charge of the Blues’ transfer dealings amid organizational changes at Stamford Bridge, would surely be tempted to make an enormous statement signing early in his tenure. And from a PR perspective – although perhaps not from an on-pitch performance one – they don’t get much bigger than this.
Chelsea have serious defensive issues to address right now in the wake of Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen departing for La Liga. Once they fill the glaring hole in central defense – seemingly with Kalidou Koulibaly – attention can return to the attack. And with it, possibly to Ronaldo.
Let’s get wild.
One of the great inhibitors in the Ronaldo sweepstakes is, quite simply, cash flow. At most, only a handful of clubs can realistically afford to handle his gargantuan wages even if the Portugal captain is willing to reduce his salary to facilitate a transfer, as he’s suggested.
That’s the primary reason why Italy – and the likes of Napoli and Roma – can’t be considered legitimate suitors. While amid their Serie A dominance, even Juventus felt the strain of paying Ronaldo and balancing that responsibility with other squad-building needs. The other clubs in Italy, then, don’t really have the means to make the numbers work.
At Paris Saint-Germain, however, there are no such issues. Financial Fair Play (FFP) has failed to curb the exorbitant spending of state-backs clubs, thus allowing the game’s wealthiest teams to largely do as they please in the recruitment space. Financially, PSG has the muscle to pull this off.
Whether it would actually make sense on the pitch and in the locker room is another matter entirely. PSG have reportedly turned down Mendes’ advances over concerns about the former.
A veritable pantheon of excellent football minds have tried and failed to get PSG over the Champions League hump in recent years, with Mauricio Pochettino the latest to endure an unceremonious exit. Something is clearly amiss at the Parc des Princes. For so many respected managers to be chewed up and spit out, despite all having an absurd crop of talent at their disposal, suggests something is broken at the core of the club.
Aside from the hilarious tactical imbalance it would create, adding Ronaldo would surely just exasperate that existing issue. Then again, seeing him alongside Lionel Messi on the same team would, of course, be a fitting culmination to their era of dominance.
This is all dependent on Robert Lewandowski’s future, really. If the prolific Pole stays put, adding Ronaldo is a non-starter.
“As highly as I rate Cristiano Ronaldo as one of the greatest, a transfer wouldn’t be a fit with our philosophy,” Bayern Munich CEO Oliver Kahn recently told German magazine Kicker, as translated by ESPN.
It’s always good practice to be at least a little skeptical of executives when they’re discussing transfer matters, but when Kahn says Ronaldo doesn’t fit with the club’s ethos of signing young talent, he’s not lying.
Sadio Mane’s addition this summer was the exception rather than the rule. Excluding free transfers and loans, Bayern simply don’t allocate transfer capital to outfield players who are 30 or older. Before the Senegalese star, the last signing who fit that bill was Sandro Wagner – that was five years ago. The likes of Ivan Perisic, Douglas Costa, and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting all arrived at the Allianz Arena either on a temporary basis or via free transfer in recent seasons.
But, again, that all came with the huge caveat that Bayern already employed world football’s preeminent goalscorer. If Lewandowski leaves, especially late in the window, perhaps Ronaldo enters the equation.
It’s wildly unlikely, but this is, objectively, the most amusing option for a multitude of reasons.
The Messi connection is obvious, but more entertaining would be seeing Barcelona try to concoct a way to make the numbers work on any deal as they, quite literally, mortgage their future to bring in new players while apparently trying to avoid honoring deferred wages to current stars. Serious mental gymnastics is happening at the Camp Nou right now.
Also, seeing Ronaldo wearing a Blaugrana kit would just be surreal.
The aforementioned Lewandowski domino looms large here, too. Outspoken Barca president Joan Laporta is very publicly courting the Bayern Munich striker, who himself is seeking a new adventure after eight years in Bavaria.
If Barca – clearly willing to pull every economic lever there is to sign new players, consequences be damned – truly think they can sign Lewandowski, it’s not a crazy leap to think they’d view Ronaldo as a realistic option in the event they miss out on Bayern’s talisman.
For all our sakes, let’s hope this happens.
Key thoughts and analysis from Tuesday's Champions League action
The Champions League last 16 rumbles on this week, as the first four quarterfinalists are being decided. Below, we dissect the biggest talking points from Tuesday’s action in Europe’s premier club competition.
Chelsea finally find their confidence
For the first half hour of Chelsea’s pivotal Champions League clash against Borussia Dortmund, scoring seemed like the most onerous task in the world. Raheem Sterling panicked when sent through on goal, dawdling when more confident strikers would do something – anything – to get the ball out from underneath them. Kai Havertz, who hadn’t scored in any of his last seven matches, struck the post, and the ball somehow skipped across the goal line and out of harm’s way. Chelsea created chances but couldn’t finish any of them.
Then something clicked. Sterling banged one home at what seemed like the 11th time of asking, lifting the heaviness around Stamford Bridge. Havertz retook the penalty he had missed, picking out the same bottom right corner he targeted with his first attempt.
In that half-hour stretch, Chelsea were a blur of motion. All they wanted to do was score. Even Marc Cucurella and Kalidou Koulibaly joined the rush. You could hardly tell this side from the one that toiled to get on the scoresheet in previous fixtures. If not for a couple of marginal offside calls, they’d have won 4-0.
This was a long time coming. Chelsea hadn’t scored multiple goals in any match since Dec. 27. Injuries certainly played a part, but for the longest time, the west London side had no attacking impetus. The players didn’t create particularly much or defend particularly well.
But head coach Graham Potter stayed the course. He managed to keep spirits high in training – even while dealing with death threats sent to him and his family. You could tell his players were up for this game. Potter’s back three pressed high, choking Dortmund’s attack before it could really get going. Cucurella was particularly aggressive, playing the kind of defense-splitting passes few expected him to play from the left center-back position.
Chelsea could of course revert to their old habits over the coming games. But that flurry of action in the middle of the game promised better things to come.
Handball rule continues to divide
What exactly is a handball offense? The International Football Association Board, which issues the laws of the game, says a “deliberate” offense occurs when a player moves their hand or arm toward the ball. A player is also at fault if they make their body bigger when their hand or arm is in an unnatural position.
Neither of these things seemed absolutely, undoubtedly true when Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell struck Dortmund defender Marius Wolf’s hand just inside the penalty area. Wolf was turning away when the shot was taken, his head looking in the opposite direction, ruling out deliberate handball. His hand wasn’t necessarily in an unnatural position, either. The German full-back wasn’t flailing his arm or stretching it out to make his body bigger. He was turning away, and his arm was still reasonably close to his body. But because Chilwell shot a yard away, Wolf couldn’t pull his entire arm in time.
Ultimately, match official Danny Makkelie reviewed the footage on the pitchside monitor and determined enough was there to award a penalty. Was Wolf’s arm out? Yes, undoubtedly so, but the circumstances here created reasonable doubt. The original non-call was not, by definition, a clear and obvious error.
The biggest issue here is enforcement. ESPN’s de facto rules official, Dale Johnson, tweeted that “competitions differ” when these calls are made. “I doubt the VAR would give it in the Premier League,” Johnson added.
Former FIFA referee Manuel Grafe expressed frustration at the call as well, saying these interpretations cause a kind of “injustice.” Sometimes they’re given, and other times not.
Chelsea’s Kepa earning his keep in goal
Kepa Arrizabalaga is redeeming himself one save at a time. It has been a strange and confusing year and a half for Chelsea’s beleaguered goalkeeper, who’s gone from afterthought to undisputed starter without fuss or fanfare. The club had no choice but to turn to Kepa once Edouard Mendy fractured his finger in January. But Mendy was losing his grip on the job before that. The world’s best goalkeeper in 2021 made a series of errors over the following year, and his confidence plummeted. Kepa stepped in and performed reasonably well as the rest of his teammates struggled and made two key saves Tuesday to keep Dortmund at bay when they threatened to take a foothold in the match. The world’s most expensive goalkeeper is in his second act as Chelsea’s No. 1, and it’s worth watching.
Injuries catch up to Dortmund
You can only overcome key injuries for so long. Eventually, they catch up to you. That’s not the sole reason Dortmund were beaten by Chelsea on Tuesday – the Blues, as outlined above, delivered their best performance in months – but, clearly, Dortmund’s list of absentees loomed large at Stamford Bridge. Missing Youssoufa Moukoko and Karim Adeyemi zapped Dortmund of any spark up front or ability to stretch the field and get behind the Chelsea backline. The latter, in particular, lit up the first leg with his spectacular solo goal. That type of gamebreaking ability was absent Tuesday as Dortmund were largely contained by Chelsea’s defense. Losing Julian Brandt in just the fifth minute to an apparent hamstring issue only compounded the matter; the creative German international was one of Dortmund’s best players during their now-snapped unbeaten run to start 2023. As a result, Sebastien Haller was mostly a non-factor in the match, touching the ball just once inside the Chelsea penalty area as Koulibaly neutralized his impact before he was taken off for the more mobile Donyell Malen in the 77th minute.
Benfica can beat anyone
Sleep on Benfica at your peril. Roger Schmidt’s team has been a bulldozer this season, the latest impressive outing coming in a 5-1 romp against Club Brugge that capped a dominant 7-1 aggregate triumph. As a result, the Portuguese giants are off to the Champions League quarterfinals for the second consecutive season. Benfica haven’t missed a beat since selling star midfielder Enzo Fernandez to Chelsea in January; Goncalo Ramos is establishing new records seemingly every time he steps on the pitch, Joao Mario has scored in five consecutive Champions League matches, and the machine that Schmidt has built just keeps chugging along. Benfica, eight points clear at the top of the table in Portugal, will fancy their chances of beating absolutely anybody in the next round, especially at the Estadio da Luz, where they’re unbeaten this season, having won 16 of 18 matches across all competitions.
Parker’s time almost up
Scott Parker has been an unmitigated disaster at Club Brugge. The Belgian side fired Carl Hoefkens in late December despite a stirring run to the Champions League knockout stages, citing poor domestic form as the reason behind the decision, and then made the surprising decision to appoint Parker as his replacement. They would surely like a mulligan right about now. The Englishman has won just two out of his 12 matches at the helm, with the 7-1 aggregate hammering against Benfica the latest humbling setback. Benfica have been steamrolling nearly everything in their path this season, but the meekness of Brugge’s performance Tuesday signified a team totally lacking in confidence right now. Parker’s squad has tumbled to fourth in the Belgian top flight, a whopping 21 points adrift of first place, and the brightest point of the season – the inspiring Champions League run – ended with a harsh thud. The former Fulham and Bournemouth manager may have already overseen his final match with the Belgian outfit.
Stat of the day
Decent company for Graham Potter.
Tweet of the day
It’s been a tough season for Parker all around.
Report: USMNT's Reyna was almost sent home from Qatar over lack of effort
The mysterious lack of playing time for Giovanni Reyna was one of the major talking points before and after the United States men’s national team was knocked out of the 2022 World Cup.
Just over a week after the USMNT lost to the Netherlands in the round of 16, it’s been revealed that the Borussia Dortmund midfielder was nearly sent home during the tournament due to his alarming training performances, sources told The Athletic’s Paul Tenorio and Sam Stejskal.
The 20-year-old reportedly showed a lack of effort as the United States trained for its World Cup opening game against Wales in November. His perceived disinterest continued in a pre-tournament scrimmage when Reyna was reported to have walked around for the majority of his time on the field.
U.S. teammates, including DeAndre Yedlin and Aaron Long, addressed their concerns with Reyna after his disinterested body language continued in a post-Wales training session, The Athletic added. His teammates urged Reyna to change his attitude and involve himself more moving forward.
Reyna eventually addressed the situation during a video session when he apologized to teammates and coaches for his actions. The issue was thought to be resolved within the team after the apology, and Reyna returned to training as normal.
Gregg Berhalter seemingly referenced the situation during his appearance at the HOW Institute for Society’s Summit on Moral Leadership in New York last Tuesday.
“In this last World Cup, we had a player that was clearly not meeting expectations on and off the field,” the USMNT head coach said. “One of 26 players, so it stood out.
“As a staff, we sat together for hours deliberating what we were going to do with this player. We were ready to book a plane ticket home, that’s how extreme it was. And what it came down to was we’re going to have one more conversation with him, and part of the conversation was how we’re going to behave from here out. There aren’t going to be any more infractions.
“As a coach, the way you can deal with things most appropriately is going back to your values. Because it’s difficult to send a player home. It was going to be a massive controversy. You would have been reading about it for five days straight. But we were prepared to do it because he wasn’t meeting the standards of the group, and the group was prepared to do it as well.”
Reyna’s agent told The Athletic it was “disappointing” that the situation has been made public.
“Gio obviously did not have the experience anyone hoped for at the World Cup,” agent Dan Segal said. “The situation, relationships, and interactions among parties are far more complicated than what has been reported.
“It is disappointing and disrespectful for certain parties to be commenting on private team matters publicly, especially when some do so without full knowledge of the facts and others do so in a self-serving manner.”
Reyna finished the 2022 World Cup with two substitute appearances against England in the group stage and the Netherlands in the round of 16. The attacking midfielder has two goals in 10 Bundesliga games for Borussia Dortmund this season.
Biggest winners and losers from wildest World Cup group stage ever
Everyone, take a breath. A most remarkable World Cup group stage came to an appropriately thrilling conclusion on Friday, as the knockout round was solidified following several days of non-stop drama. Below, we look back on the opening round of the tournament in Qatar by examining the biggest winners and losers from the past fortnight.
Winners: Plucky underdogs
Who had Australia, Japan, Morocco, and South Korea on their bingo card?
Few outsiders gave these underdog nations a chance, and not just because of their chequered form heading into the tournament. Each of them drew opponents ranked inside the top 15, giving them little hope of advancing from – let alone topping – their groups, but they each found their own inner strength. Australia beat Denmark, Japan upset Germany and Spain, Morocco ousted Belgium, and South Korea stunned Portugal with a goal in the 91st minute. Those wins set them on their way to the round of 16.
Each of them relied on a strong defensive foundation to make history and scored goals off counters and high-pressing moves. But Japan stood out most from the chasing pack. Drawing strength from his substitutes, coach Hajime Moriyasu made in-game tactical adjustments to help his side knock off its heavily favored opponents. Japan ended up winning the group, and the team now has a chance to continue its unexpected run against Croatia.
Strictly on the pitch, Qatar entered the competition widely viewed as the worst host nation the World Cup had ever seen – and it proved to be so. The Qataris set several unfortunate benchmarks during their brief tournament debut, becoming the first host to lose its opening game and, eventually, finish the group stage without a point. Qatar, with three defeats and a minus-six goal differential, officially finished last of all 32 competing sides.
Myriad issues off the field, both before and during the event, created a dark cloud around this tournament. Organizers were hopeful the action on the pitch – and ideally, a surprise showing from Felix Sanchez’s team – would distract the world and change the conversation. It didn’t. Not in the slightest.
Winner: FIFA (as always)
The World Cup that banned alcohol inside stadiums turned out to be the drunkest tournament of all. You can’t make this up. Australia over Denmark. Poland hanging on by a thread in Group C. The absolute madness of Group E. South Korea’s last-gasp win that simultaneously created tears of joy for Heung Min-Son and despair for Luis Suarez and Uruguay. Nothing can match the drama of the World Cup, particularly during the final round of group matches when permutations are being scoured and fortunes are changing every minute with each goal. Anyone rooting for chaos was more than satisfied this week.
No matter what, we’re hooked. And FIFA knows it. Hopefully, football’s governing body realizes that the current format – with four-team groups – shouldn’t be tinkered with going into the expanded 2026 event. Asking FIFA to do the right thing may be a fool’s errand, but after seeing the unrivaled excitement this format generated over the past few days, surely Gianni Infantino and his cronies won’t ruin it. Right?
Losers: Belgium and Germany
Belgium, a rickety team very clearly on the decline coming into the World Cup, was always going to struggle, but few expected the Red Devils to be this bad. Roberto Martinez’s tenure – and the “Golden Generation” – came to an unceremonious end with a group-stage exit. Kevin De Bruyne wasn’t himself. Eden Hazard ran out of gas. Romelu Lukaku barely played. There were rumors of infighting and disharmony within the squad. Any way you slice it, Belgium’s ouster after scoring just once in three games was humbling.
Germany, on the other hand, can count itself somewhat unlucky. The Germans dominated against Japan but lost, tied Spain, and racked up four goals in a hectic victory over Costa Rica. And yet, Hansi Flick’s team still went home despite compiling the best expected goal difference of any side in the group stage. Undeserved? Possibly. But this is now the second consecutive World Cup in which Germany has fallen at the first hurdle. For a once-vaunted team, this was another sobering failure.
Winner: Marcus Rashford
With three goals thus far, Rashford enters the knockout round as one of the World Cup’s top scorers. While his efforts may have come against beatable opponents in Iran and Wales, the 25-year-old can nonetheless count himself as one of England’s most important players in Qatar.
Rashford’s come a long way over the last 12 months. His campaign against child hunger won him plaudits off the pitch, but his form at Manchester United dropped significantly. He only played a bit role in England’s run to the Euro 2020 final, appearing mostly as a substitute, and faced racist abuse in the aftermath of his country’s defeat on penalties to Italy. Now, Rashford’s back to scoring goals, and given Harry Kane’s only struggles, that’s a very welcome development.
Loser: Gianni Infantino
FIFA president Infantino tried his best to defend Qatar, but he only made things worse. In his opening remarks, Infantino feigned sympathy for marginalized fans who felt unwelcome in Qatar and lashed out against the West over criticism of the host nation’s human rights transgressions. “Today, I feel gay,” the 52-year-old said in a flippant display that only inflamed tensions between FIFA and marginalized people. “This moral lesson-giving – one-sided – is just hypocrisy,” the Swiss added.
Infantino stood by as Qatar’s regime enforced a stadium ban on alcohol days before the start of the tournament, and FIFA then barred captains from wearing a rainbow-colored armband in support of the LGBTQ community. It all happened on Infantino’s watch. For a man who initially ran for president on a promise of “change,” he’s ensuring the governing body stays stagnant in its ways.
Winners: Ajax and PSV’s bank accounts
Ajax and PSV Eindhoven are laughing all the way to the bank right now. Their respective decisions not to sell Mohammed Kudus and Cody Gakpo are about to pay off – quite literally – very handsomely within the next six months. Both players were already in demand this past summer, with Premier League sides particularly expressing interest, but a move didn’t materialize. Now, on the back of standout showings at the World Cup, the Dutch and Ghanaian stars have both boosted their stock.
Gakpo is carrying the Netherlands’ attack, as the angular forward is tied for the tournament lead with three goals heading into the knockout stage. Kudus, meanwhile, provided a spark for the Black Stars. No player in Group H completed more take-ons or scored more goals than the 22-year-old. The price tag for both players is only going in one direction.
Denmark built up a lot of goodwill after its run to the Euro 2020 semifinals, but it couldn’t justify its dark-horse status in Qatar. The team finished last in its group with just a single point and goal scored. Kasper Hjulmand’s team couldn’t produce any offense, making several uncharacteristic errors in the process. The Danes also missed an early opportunity to take three points against Tunisia, which ultimately set the tone for their disappointing group-stage exit.
Denmark could’ve afforded a loss to France but not Australia, which needed a shootout win over Peru in the intercontinental playoffs just to get to Qatar. The Danes managed only three shots on target against the Aussies and ultimately conceded the goal that eliminated them off an avoidable counterattack.
Winner: Alvaro Morata
Morata often finds himself as the butt of jokes. Critics laugh at the scoring record of a player whose cost clubs an estimated €189 million in transfer fees and scoff at the number of times he strays offside. He’s never scored more than 15 times in a single league season, yet he’s played for some of the biggest teams in Europe.
However, he’s shown he’s indeed a quality striker during the World Cup. Morata came off the bench to score Spain’s only goal against Germany, and his header against Japan ended up being one of La Roja’s only worthwhile plays in an otherwise uninspiring 2-1 defeat on Wednesday.
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