Thursday, June 11, 2009

Who will replace Ronaldo?

With Cristiano Ronaldo on the verge of ending one of the longest running transfer sagas ever by joining Real Madrid, we ask the question: who could possibly replace him at Manchester United?
Such is Ronaldo's ability to play different roles across the attacking third of the pitch, the search for a 'replacement' will be complicated.

Few players, if any, offer such diversity, meaning Alex Ferguson may have to bring in more than one recruit if he is to truly cover all the bases left vacant by the Portuguese's departure.

And who he brings in will very much depend on what Ferguson already has in his squad, and most importantly how he sees Wayne Rooney figuring in his future plans.

The debate over Rooney's best position - out-and-out striker, wide on the left or roaming all over - has raged all season but, depending on how Ferguson spends the £80m from Ronaldo's sale, that argument could be put to bed once and for all.

Here, we take a look at those players of interest to United ahead of the start of the new season.

Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich) - The £40m-rated France international presents possibly the best option for United, certainly in terms of experience at the highest level. He appeared in the 2006 World Cup final and has won the Bundesliga with Bayern, as well as scooping individual player of the year awards in both France and Germany. Like Ronaldo, Ribery has skill and pace to burn while providing a real goal threat from an attacking midfield position. He would slot neatly into the right-wing berth in Ferguson's side, but is also able of switching wings and playing more centrally, behind a front man.

Antonio Valencia (Wigan Athletic) - At £20m, the Ecuadorian presents a cheaper option than Ribery but nevertheless offers a degree of versatility. Capable of operating on either wing, Valencia is blessed with natural pace and is happiest running with the ball at his feet and taking players on. Question marks remain over his ability to step up to the highest stage but, at 23, time is on his side.

Karim Benzema (Lyon) - Big, fast and strong with an eye for goal, Benzema is one of the hottest properties in football. Twenty goals for Lyon two years ago were followed by another 17 last season, proving the striker's ability to find the back of the net, even if Ligue 1 is hardly the Premier League. But Benzema has proved he can cut it in the Champions League too, netting five in eight games this past season. Indeed, the only possible downside of signing Benzema would be that Rooney would most likely be shoved out wide to accommodate the Frenchman through the middle.

Arjen Robben/Wesley Sneijder (Real Madrid) - With the details of any possible deal with Real Madrid yet to be concluded, a swap deal involving either Dutchman, or both, could yet be brokered. Robben, who has prior experience of the Premier League with Chelsea but a worrying injury record, would provide United with real width, while he also knows where the goal is. And the more versatile Sneijder, who has been linked with a move to Bayern Munich already this summer, is one of few players in the world who come close to matching Ronaldo in terms of free-kick taking.

Nani/Zoran Tosic, (Manchester United) - With relatively few suitable candidates with the credentials to replace Ronaldo presenting themselves on the market, perhaps Ferguson may find a solution a little closer to home. Both could provide viable options. Nani, like Ronaldo, can play on either wing, although, unlike his compatriot, he has so far failed to make the grade at Old Trafford. Tosic, 22, is also yet to star in a United shirt, but Ronaldo's imminent departure presents both with a real chance to stand up and be counted, should they be given a chance.

With Cristiano Ronaldo on the verge of ending one of the longest running transfer sagas ever by joining Real Madrid, we ask the question: who could possibly replace him at Manchester United?

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