Antoine Griezmann

The future of Cristiano Ronaldo was a sideshow throughout the summer for Manchester United, one that dragged on throughout July and August, until the window closed on September 1 with the 37-year-old still at Old Trafford.

That brought the saga to an end for now, but the next couple of months will reveal whether it was a temporary pause or a permanent halt to his attempts to leave the club. Ronaldo made his desire to remain in the Champions League clear and then missed a significant chunk of United’s pre-season for personal reasons.

But as the window wore on it became clear there wasn’t a market for him among Europe’s elite as his options gradually reduced. Staying at United has hardly been productive, either.

Ronaldo has spent four successive Premier League games on the bench, starting the back-to-back Europa League games against Real Sociedad and FC Sheriff Tiraspol. His first goal of the season in Moldova last week was welcome, but the Zimbru Stadium in Chisinau isn’t the kind of venue he expected to be doing his ‘Siu’ celebration in at this stage of his career.

If Ronaldo’s first-team involvement remains limited at United between now and January then there is every possibility he will push to leave once again, maybe widening his options given his absence of game time. United have 13 games in 43 days before the World Cup and with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial struggling with injury, Ronaldo will certainly start some of them.

It is the calibre of games that he’s involved in that may be decisive in any decision he makes in January. He will expect to be involved against Manchester City, Tottenham and Chelsea in the Premier League, rather than the Europa League double header with Omonia Nicosia.

If he clearly isn’t in Erik ten Hag’s first-team plans then Ronaldo will almost certainly be keen on a January move and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that suitors are more encouraged to make a move then. He has the World Cup to prove his credentials on the biggest stage remain and the likes of Bayern Munich and Chelsea may see him as a short-term solution if their own problems continue until the New Year.

But if Ronaldo does leave midway through the season then United will need a replacement. Finding a young striker at the highest level as a long-term replacement is unlikely in January, but there will be short-term options.

One is a player United have been linked with for years, in Antoine Griezmann, whose own future is uncertain beyond January as well.

The 31-year-old is the subject of a complex transfer dispute between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid at the moment, one that could be heading to the courts. When returning to his former club on loan for two years last summer there was a clause in the contract that stated the move would become permanent for €40million if Griezmann played more than 45 minutes in more than 50 per cent of the game he was available for.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, such an unusual deal has created a divide. Barcelona believe they are now owed €40million, while Atletico have started using Griezmann primarily as a sub to avoid the clause becoming active, trying to strengthen their hand in negotiations to lower the fee.

The Frenchman started Sunday’s derby with Real Madrid, but until then he had come on between minute 61 and 64 in seven successive games. The strategy has become obvious.

Despite only playing half an hour every week, Griezmann has still managed three goals and has been a star performer for Diego Simeone’s side, either in attack or as an advanced midfielder, a new string to his bow this season.

If the dispute between Barcelona and Atletico rumbles on until January, one solution could be for Griezmann to move elsewhere. He would be available for a cut-price fee and is clearly still an elite performer.

This isn’t the long-term centre-forward Ten Hag would want to build around, but in signing Christian Eriksen the United boss has already shown he values experience. Griezmann is six years younger than Ronaldo and also adds more versatility to the forward line, he could certainly be an option if United need a forward mid-season.


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