Cristiano Ronaldo may be much more than a super substitute for Manchester United this season and he still has a lot to offer, according to a former Old Trafford favourite.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner has started just once in the Premier League this season, he has also made five appearances off the bench, yet to score or provide an assist.
A Manchester City derby awaits United on Sunday, and it remains to be seen whether manager Erik ten Hag considers the 37-year-old Ronaldo for a starting job at the Etihad Stadium.
Last season’s 24-goal top scorer for United missed the club’s pre-season tour in July for personal reasons, and appears to lack sharpness in the opening weeks of competitive action.
Raimond van der Gouw, who spent six seasons at United during the Alex Ferguson era, suspects Ronaldo will be good again, suggesting it’s just a matter of finding the right moment in terms of raising his stake.
Asked if Ronaldo could be a perfect impact substitute for United this season, Van der Gouw told Stats Perform: “I won’t say that. No, no, no, no.
“I mean, he’s fine, he’s not 30 anymore. He’s in his 30s, but he’s very fit. But he missed a part of preseason.”
Former goalkeeper Van der Gouw said those weeks before the season starts are very important, and anyone who is not up to speed when the competitive action starts can be in trouble. He sees Ronaldo offering much more than cameos from the bench in the future.
“You look for your form, you’re still a little bit behind in the condition. So it’s a question of when is the right time to fit in,” Van der Gouw said. “But in the meantime, you’ve seen that the team is working, so you don’t change teams so quickly. I think it’s a matter of time, when do you put Ronaldo in and can he deliver what he can deliver?
“And I think at his age, he’s still good enough.
“You can be fit and do your work in a gym, but you need your fitness for the game, and you only get it by playing. And that’s what he didn’t do in the beginning. So he’s a little behind.”
Ronaldo has played 207 minutes in the Premier League this term, taking 12 shots in that time, with just two of them on target.
He scored his first goal of the season in the Europa League, from a penalty against Sheriff, before leaving for the national team.
Even with Portugal, where he played full matches against the Czech Republic and Spain, Ronaldo has not been immune to criticism.
After a 1-0 loss to Spain this week, Ronaldo’s performance was heavily criticised, much to the dismay of his sister, Katia Aveiro.
He said the critics were “sick, petty, soulless, stupid and always ungrateful”.
Ronaldo was also defended by Bruno Fernandes, his teammate in Portugal and United, who said: “This is a stage. When the goals start to appear, he will have more capacity and calm to continue scoring many goals for our team.” I can’t forget that he is the best goalscorer in history.”
The Ronaldo of years past might have struck back at the naysayers by producing a game-winning performance in his next match, but the bench may call again this weekend.
Van der Gouw has no doubt that City will be tough opposition for United.
“Well, at the moment, it is obvious that City is much further [ahead] than Man United. It’s pretty clear,” said Van der Gouw, who was Peter Schmeichel’s deputy for many years.
“So, in a way, you expect it to be an interesting game. It’s always a different game compared to [to others]. It’s not just a normal game if you play against City.
“Everyone has to be very ready. And then we’ll see who’s going to be the winner. That’s a huge game. Huge.”