It made no sense at all. There was no reason for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer not to start Cristiano Ronaldo against Everton. He has got somebody who as fit and ready as a 36-year-old can be. He’s desperate to play every single game because he still wants to be the highest scorer in the Premier League. To have him sitting on the bench rather than having him on the pitch in front of you is just not the ideal scenario. He wants to be out there.
When you have your best players you play them. What he tried to do with Anthony Martial didn’t make any sense. Martial scored but that’s it. He didn’t contribute anything else to the game. Ronaldo has to start. If anything you could have put Edinson Cavani in the wide position and have him running behind Ronaldo because of his movement and he will run beyond and create space for the Portuguese. When Ronaldo does come on he is playing as a midfielder.
I say this all the time about United, they have no cohesion in the team. There is nothing that joins together. They have a backline and a frontline that are not joined by the bit in the middle. Everything is slow and predictable. They are being overran by so many midfields, not just in Europe but in the Premier League. You can’t talk about winning the Premier League when you don’t have one of the top 10 midfields in the league.
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You want Ronaldo on the pitch, not on the bench, it’s as simple as that. He needs to play until he can’t, or until United improve that much as a team that people are happy for him to make fleeting appearances now and again. Right now United need someone on the pitch who they believe is going to score a goal.
Could you imagine Everton when they saw him on the bench? Rafa Benitez would have been thinking they had a lot of injuries but with Ronaldo not starting that takes a lot of pressure off the defence. Michael Keane and Yerry Mina didn’t look under much stress. There was no tempo about United and the substitutions should have been made at half-time, to let everyone know that you know. When the first half was so poor, following on from the smash and grab in midweek, you show that you have had enough, change it at half-time, don’t do it after 60 minutes. Cavani needed Ronaldo out there, so did Bruno Fernandes. I think some of those players at Manchester United are already thinking ‘we need Ronaldo, we are a one-man team’.

Veterans Ronaldo and Pepe share a joke in Portugal training

When I was playing for United the squads weren’t as big as they are now, we played more games for less money, the games were more physical and the pitches weren’t as good.
But if the boss [Sir Alex Ferguson] was going to start Eric Cantona on the bench then I think all the heads in the dressing room would have turned and said, ‘no you’re not!’. In 1991/92 the boss left Mark Hughes on the bench when we played Nottingham Forest around Easter time and we went on a poor spell that cost us the league. Everyone was going ‘wow’. Nottingham Forest had Nigel Clough at centre-half and you thought that would have been perfect for Sparky, but he left Sparky out and we lost the game.

Mark Hughes in action for Manchester United

Image credit: Getty Images

It’s not just about not having a player in the team, it’s the impact that decision has on the rest of the team. It’s like when Bryan Robson wasn’t fit to play we were all thinking ‘Robbo’s not here, how are we going to get around that’? You have to think about what the rest of the players will think. If Solskjaer had left Martial on the bench that wouldn’t have made a difference, but you leave a presence like Ronaldo on the bench then it affects the team. Some of those players would have seen that and thought ‘hold on, are we going to win this game? Who’s going to score our goals? Who’s going to do this and that?’
The boss was wanting to try something different by leaving Sparky out, but with the squad size and finances at the time we didn’t have many other players and nobody who could just come in and replace him. Now you have more quality on the bench but we didn’t at the time.

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With the older players I think you have to play them until you can see something is wrong or they are honest enough to say something. You have to trust the player. You will see something and then ask for honesty from the player. Ronaldo hasn’t come here to sit on the bench and he wants to get continuity and to keep scoring goals. He wants to set records. If you are a professional footballer then you want to be involved in every game, especially if you are playing for a club the size of Manchester United.
I hope Solskjaer learns from this. He should have help from the people around him. I would like to think that someone on the coaching team questioned him, because the fans did and so did everyone watching it. A year ago he was playing regularly for Juventus, so how do you suddenly put the brakes on now? Don’t come out with the Premier League is tougher than Serie A.
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