Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has insisted that Manchester United can’t rely on Cristiano Ronaldo alone to score goals, but has backed the veteran striker to play well into his 40’s.
The Red Devils head into this weekend’s game with Aston Villa level on points with Chelsea and Liverpool at the top of the Premier League, having picked up four wins and a draw from their opening five league games, including their most recent dramatic 2-1 victory over West Ham United.
That enthralling battle at the London Stadium saw United’s Portuguese star net for the fourth time in just three games since his long-awaited return to the club from Juventus, 12 years after having initially departed Old Trafford for Real Madrid.
A late Jesse Lingard stunner and a stoppage-time David De Gea penalty save ensured a hard-fought victory for Solskjaer’s men to maintain their 29-game unbeaten run away from home in the league, albeit with United going on to slip up against the Hammers at home in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday night.
That clash saw the Norwegian rest a number of key names, including Ronaldo, with that decision ultimately backfiring as the hosts struggled to fashion any real openings, illustrating their current reliance on their 36-year-old to be the main source of goals.
Speaking at his press conference on Friday, Solskjaer was asked if Ronaldo can shoulder the goalscoring burden on his own: “No, of course not,” he said.
“Jesse has two, Mason [Greenwood] has three, Bruno [Fernandes] has four and Cristiano has four, which is a good return from the forwards.
“Marcus [Rashford] has yet to come back, of course, and Anthony [Martial], Jadon [Sancho], Edinson [Cavani], they will score goals.
“It has to be spread around, that’s for sure. Paul [Pogba] will score goals too. It’s been a long long time since we’ve had one main 30 or 40 goals-a-year striker.
“But if you can get that and the others can get up to that expected tally as well, then we’ve got a good chance.”
Fans and pundits alike had questioned whether the Portugal international could replicate his previous impressive form, although following his strong start to life back in England, his manager has insisted he could still be playing when he’s 40 and beyond.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he still played when he was 40, not at all, because of the way he looks after himself,” Solskjaer said.
“That’s the key to it – and of course some genes. There must be some genes as well, some DNA in there.
“He has put every single ounce of energy and effort into becoming the player he is and has been, so he deserves every single little plaudit that he gets for his physical state.
“What’s more impressive is when you have achieved as much as he has, he’s still as hungry. His mentality is still absolutely spot-on and that’s a desire from inside that he’s going to keep going until his head says, ‘no, I’ve given everything now’.
“Hopefully it will last a few more years. Linford Christie was quite an age when he won his gold as well (Christie won the Olympic 100m in 1992 at the age of 32), so age is never a problem.”
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