Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag will be aiming to fill the void left by Cristiano Ronaldo’s acrimonious departure in the near future after the 37-year-old’s contract at Old Trafford was ripped up by mutual consent earlier this week. Ronaldo is currently on the lookout for a new club after burning his bridges at United by taking part in a tell-all interview with Piers Morgan, which means the Red Devils will need to replace the five-time Ballon d’Or winner in order to boost their attacking ranks for the second half of the season.
United are likely to dip into the transfer market in January to sign a forward capable of doing a job for them until the end of the campaign, with recent reports claiming that Ten Hag is looking to land a striker on a short-term contract in the new year. Ronaldo’s exit has also opened up another question for United that will need to be answered when the Premier League resumes, with his coveted No 7 shirt now up for grabs and several players vying for the opportunity to sport the prestigious number of their backs.
Alejandro Garnacho would be the most obvious candidate to take Ronaldo’s old shirt number, with the 18-year-old having established himself as an important cog in the machine at Old Trafford over the last few months. He seems to have all of the necessary attributes to become United’s next big star and is naturally a winger, which suggests that it would make sense for him to wear the same number that Ronaldo did when he was breaking through with the Red Devils as a young player out wide.
Another option for the No 7 shirt at United could emerge in the form of Jadon Sancho, who has struggled to live up to expectations since joining the club but is still a hugely talented member of the squad and could be set to reap the rewards of Ronaldo’s recent exit. He has received plenty of criticism for a number of muted showings during his time at United but has shown flashes of brilliance in recent months and may simply need to hit a strong run of form in order to finally realise his potential at Old Trafford.
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Sancho was left out of the England squad for this year’s World Cup and will be motivated to prove Gareth Southgate wrong upon the return of the Premier League by hitting the ground running at United, who will resume their campaign against Nottingham Forest on December 27. If he manages to show what he is capable of at United between now and the end of the season, a welcome reward in the form of the No 7 shirt could be on the agenda for Sancho as he looks to consolidate his important standing at the club over the next few months.
Anthony Elanga will also be hoping to play a heightened role for United in the absence of Ronaldo after working his way into regular first-team contention over the last couple of seasons. The young Swede has already registered 10 league appearances since the beginning of the campaign and is clearly rated highly by Ten Hag, although it remains unclear whether the Dutchman will decide to give Elanga the No 7 shirt following Ronaldo’s departure.
Meanwhile, an outside chance to pick up the coveted shirt number in the not-too-distant future could be Antony, who joined United in a mega-money move from Ajax towards the end of the summer transfer window. The Brazilian trickster has only sported the No 21 since leaving Ajax but wore No 7 during his time at Sao Paulo and could potentially be tempted to do so again with Ronaldo no longer at the club.
It remains to be seen which United player will eventually be given the iconic shirt number, which will carry a lot of pressure for its wearer to perform well as the Red Devils seek a top-four finish in the Premier League at the end of the season. There will be several candidates for Ten Hag to choose from when club football returns in England next month, although he is likely to have more urgent matters to attend to in the weeks leading up to the January transfer window than deciding who gets to wear the No 7 shirt.
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