A new star was born at Craven Cottage on Sunday, and the focus among the United fanbase should be on him instead of a bitter has-been
”He’s got something about him, there’s no doubt about that. Bad attitude or not, he can play,” Gary Neville remarked while commentating for Sky Sports on AlejandroGarnacho’s last-gasp winner for Manchester United against Fulham on Sunday.
”I remember Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a goal, a solo goal from that side many, many years ago that won Manchester United a game here, but not as late as this.”
The 2007 strike in question, which saw Ronaldo produce an arrowed finish after a scintillating run down the left wing, marked the completion of his transition from talented wonderkid to global superstar.
Garnacho’s equally sublime effort on Sunday is, though, just his first act. At 18 years of age, the Argentina youth international is still learning his trade, and in the words of United boss Erik ten Hag, he needs to ”keep his feet on the ground”.
Having Ronaldo as his role model could, however, hinder that process and damage his development. Garnacho should have been waking up to see his name plastered across the backpages on Monday morning, but his veteran team-mate has stolen the limelight away from him.
Excerpts from Ronaldo’s ill-advised interview with Piers Morgan, which will be aired in full later this week, are now all over the internet, and it’s all anyone is talking about.
The 37-year-old says he feels ”betrayed” by United for their perceived attempts to force him out of the club in the summer and has admitted he doesn’t respect Ten Hag among a whole host of other explosive revelations. The club will now be expected to come down hard on Ronaldo, with some reports suggesting he will face a seven-figure fine for his comments.
Ronaldo has tainted his legacy with this outburst, but he has also ruined Garnacho’s breakout moment. Once again, the Portuguese forward has made everything about him, which has been the underlying theme of his second spell at Old Trafford.
There needs to be more than a hefty financial penalty for the famous No.7. United have to make an example of Ronaldo and sell him on as soon as the January transfer window is open. His best years are well and truly behind him, but Garnacho still has his whole career to look forward to.
It’s time for United to focus on the future, with their new teenage wonderkid front and centre.
Comparisons between Garnacho and Ronaldo are obvious, as he boasts the same explosive turn of pace and dribbling ability that the five-time Ballon d’Or winner did in his heyday, and also appears to have a similar arrogant streak.
Indeed, United vice-captain Bruno Fernandes recently raised question marks over Garnacho’s ”attitude”, but also said his match-winning display against Fulham showed he is maturing quickly.
“I think everyone is seeing signs that [he can go all the way],” Fernandes said after the game. “Not because of his goals and assists, but the way he comes into the game. Nobody likes to be on the bench, so the attitude he has when he comes off has been fantastic.
“He deserves the chances he’s been having and he’s got his rewards. That’s what football’s about.”
Garnacho now has two goals and three assists to his name from eight appearances in 2022-23, with only three of those coming as a starter, and it’s getting more difficult for Ten Hag to justify leaving him on the bench.
The Under-20 international would surely have been disappointed not to make the Argentinasenior squad for the World Cup, but he responded with a star-making display instead of dwelling on the snub. He stepped up when United needed a moment of inspiration and deserves the chance to make an even bigger impact in the second half of the season. Ronaldo’s exit would open up a spot for him.
Ten Hag’s job now is to make sure that this does indeed turn out to be Garnacho’s breakthrough season, so that he can go on to establish himself as a key player in his long-term revolution at Old Trafford.
For his part, Garnacho must keep his head down and continue fine-tuning his all-round game. Ronaldo was once the finest example of a player who always strived for improvement and pushed himself to reach new levels. However, he is no longer a suitable role model for Garnacho.
The teenager took his shirt off and presented his name to the away fans when celebrating his goal against Fulham, emulating Lionel Messi’s iconic move after scoring for Barcelona to seal a thrilling 3-2 win over Real Madrid in 2017.
If he continues on his current trajectory, Garnacho will soon have the chance to play alongside the Argentine legend at international level. He would do well to try and follow Messi’s off-field example too, rather than Ronaldo’s.