Filling the hole left by Ronaldo the ultimate test for United
D I S C OV E R - ING someone to step up to the plate when the main man has gone has long been an attribute of the best teams.
If you accept the prognosis that no individual is bigger or more important than the team then it is encumbent upon others to fill the gap left by a departing individual.
On the earliest of evidence, some might suggest that Manchester United are going to find it mighty hard to mask the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo this season.
An unconvincing 1-0 home win over Birmingham on the opening weekend of the season was followed by defeat at Burnley in midweek, through a similar score line in reverse.
But it wasn’t just the loss of three points that made you wonder who would step up and accept the greater responsibility this season in the United side.
Wayne Rooney’s growing frustration, a familiar sight, was evident as United slithered towards defeat.
Ryan Giggs did his best but those ageing legs cannot quite carry him to the parts of the field other players could not reach in his heyday.
Dimitar Berbatov came on and again disappointed, likewise Michael Owen who failed once again in front of England manager Fabio Capello.
Of course, it was all so easy in the last few seasons. When others were contained or off their game, all United had to do was give the ball to Ronaldo and watch as he worked a particular piece of magic that would invariably turn a game.
It wasn’t just his goal scoring ability, but his skill in creating opportunities for others, too. Now, that is just a memory and perhaps United are beginning to see their limitations without him. For these are some boots to fill. Perhaps, in time, Antonio Valencia can fill the void, perhaps Owen will re-discover his once lethal goal scoring touch that made him feared the length and breadth of the land.
Perhaps Sir Alex Ferguson can coax from the enigmatic Berbatov the kind of form that persuaded him to pay Tottenham £30 million for his services.
Thus far, it has to be said, and doubtless to the bewilderment of the Old Trafford audience, Berbatov has seldom looked a shadow of the player he was at White Hart Lane. Quite why, it is hard to know.
Suffice to say, someone from somewhere in this squad has to step up to the challenge. Perhaps it will be Federico Macheda or a home grown youngster, Danny Welbeck. It will be fascinating to see just how long Ferguson will wait before trying one or even both of them. But he surely cannot afford to wait too long.
Filling this void, what some might suggest is more a chasm, will test not only Ferguson’s nerve but the resolve of those players in his charge.
Who will show he has the character to take on the task, good enough technically to command a regular place but also consistent enough as a goal scorer to justify it?
After this stumbling first week of the new season for United, Ferguson, and United’s many followers, will hope that figure emerges sooner rather than later.