Some things in football just look strange. Like they should never have happened - see John Terry in an Aston Villa shirt or Leicester City with the Premier League trophy in-hand. The sight of Cristiano Ronaldo as a Manchester City player would be one of these things - a glitch in the footballing matrix.
And yet as transfer deadline day gets closer and closer it grows more and more likely that the Portuguese forward will end up at the Etihad Stadium. City reportedly want to sign Ronaldo, but only if Juventus are willing to let him leave on a free, while the player himself wants to depart Turin.
City are widely known to be in the market for a new centre-forward following the exit of Sergio Aguero at the end of last season. Harry Kane was Pep Guardiola’s top target, but no agreement was reached with Tottenham Hotspur. Erling Haaland was another name linked, but Borussia Dortmund are just as determined not to sell their prize asset this summer.
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This has left Manchester City in a vulnerable position. With Gabriel Jesus now seemingly seen as a winger by Guardiola, the Premier League champions have just one recognised centre-forward on their books - 18-year-old Liam Delap. Meanwhile, title challengers Chelsea have added Romelu Lukaku, one of the most lethal goalscorers in the game, to their ranks for £98m.
It would be understandable if City looked at Ronaldo as a way to address their most obvious squad deficiency. While the 36-year-old might not be the physical force of nature he was even a few years ago, he remains a highly efficient and ruthless penalty box poacher. Ronaldo would almost certainly score 20 goals, maybe more, in sky blue.
There’s a good chance, however, that Ronaldo would disrupt the system Guardiola has carefully crafted over the last five years. This current City team might not be as purely Pep as his great Barcelona team was, but it has been moulded using many of the same principles.
Most notably, City’s attack is inherently fluid. Wide men swap positions, centre-forwards drop deep… Guardiola likes attackers who can do much more than just put the ball in the back of the net. This is a problem for Ronaldo, who has fine-tuned his game since turning 30 to achieve binary success in front of goal.
Even Aguero had to convince Guardiola in his early days as Manchester City boss that he could thrive in the Catalan’s system. There would have been no concerns over Haaland or Kane’s ability to conduct attacks as well as finish them, but Ronaldo hasn’t been this sort of forward for a number of years.

Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur applauds after the Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur at Molineux on August 22, 2021 in Wolverhampton, England

Image credit: Getty Images

Of course, Ronaldo’s return to the Premier League might be driven by non-footballing reasons. Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi owners have watched this summer as Paris Saint-Germain, owned by geo-political rivals Qatar, have pulled off the biggest transfer coup of all-time. There’s only one player who can draw some of the gaze away from Lionel Messi and it’s Ronaldo.
This would be a strategic detour for City who have, until now, always handed control to the football-minded figures at the club, but one must not forget one possible purpose of Abu Dhabi’s interest. The signing of Ronaldo would add another layer of sheen to the sportswashing that Manchester City have been accused of.
Guardiola might also see Ronaldo in the same way Sir Alex Ferguson saw Robin van Persie in the summer of 2012. With Ferguson entering his final season at Manchester United, Van Persie arrived to provide an instant impact without much thought of the long-term implications of signing a player on the brink of turning 30.
With Guardiola recently revealing his intention to finish up at Manchester City at the end of his contract in 2023, the signing of Ronaldo might be the Catalan’s way of keeping his team at the top for the final two years of his tenure with Haaland and Kane out of reach for the time being. Nonetheless, Ronaldo would be an awkward fit for City, and not just because of his history at Old Trafford.
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