Manchester United endured a night to forget against Wolves on Monday and besides Phil Jones and maybe David de Gea, no one player could be content with their individual performance.
This includes Cristiano Ronaldo, who donned the captain’s armband on the night but it looked to weigh on him in a strangely subdued showing. Ineffective going forward and dropping far too deep to find touches, Ronaldo played on the periphery as Wolves dominated and failed to help United in the build-up as a result.
Despite this being one of Ronaldo’s worst games in a United shirt since he returned to Old Trafford, it seemed that Ralf Rangnick at no point had any intention of subbing the Portuguese forward.
His post-match comments about the substitution of Mason Greenwood proved particularly revealing, as he said: “The question was shall I take off Mason or shall I take off Edi [Cavani], that was the question.
“We decided to keep Edi as the more offensive, the more striker of the two on the pitch. I take off Mason, that was my call.
“We could also have done it in a different way but it shows how highly how the fans like Mason as a homegrown player and, as I said, his effort and performance was not outstanding but at least he was one of the better players today.”
The decision to take off Greenwood was met by boos from the United fans inside a disillusioned Old Trafford because up until that point he had arguably been the team’s best player going forward and someone who was efficient in his use of the ball.
But Rangnick refused to mention the possibility of Ronaldo also being an option to come off for Bruno Fernandes despite his poor performance.
Ronaldo has scored a number of last-minute goals this season and has an unparalleled reputation when it comes to scoring clutch goals. The reward often outweighs the risk.
But over the last few matches, his performance levels have dipped and when he is not scoring the goals he’s renowned for, it quickly becomes a question of whether this is actually detrimental to United’s performance as a team.
Reports of a dressing-room revolt will not help the interim boss but if he is intent on improving United’s collective, then difficult decisions will need to be made on individuals and who best suit the needs of the team against different opposition.
Whether it is for fitness or for form, it is telling that since the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer only Michael Carrick has dropped Ronaldo, which could be sending the wrong message to the rest of the squad.
There should be no room for sentiment, even account for his standing and reputation if Rangnick is serious about removing some of the issues that continue to exist in this squad. Against a number of opponents, Ronaldo will be a selection that benefits United, but an uneasy admission that isn’t against every team is necessary here.
He should be treated as just another member of United’s squad and his performances should influence whether he is allowed to start.
Rangnick could do worse than to consider how Thomas Tuchel has managed the Romelu Lukaku circus at Chelsea in recent days. The controversial comments the Belgian made during an interview with Sky Sports in Italy led to him being left out of the squad against Liverpool last weekend and has ultimately resulted in a grovelling apology to supporters.
The Ronaldo case does not draw exact parallels but is a classic case of how no one player can be considered bigger than the sum of the parts of a team and United risk this problem becoming a wider one with a continued undroppable status.
Lukaku also returned to Stamford Bridge in the summer with big expectations due to his price tag but Tuchel has never let that get in the way of his ambitions for the team, who are not exactly littered with superstars and whose Champions League win last season under the German was built on a strong team ethic.
Rangnick’s era may be defined on whether or not he can offer a similar hardline stance to any underperformers at United, regardless of their status.