Whingeing Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes playing blame game at Manchester United

Star duo's antics are symbolic of attitude problem at Old Trafford

Manchester United attacker Cristiano Ronaldo was lucky to escape red cards against Liverpool and Newcastle. AFP
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There are only a couple of letters between winners and whingers. There may be other common denominators, given that Manchester United’s moaner-in-chief is one of the most decorated players of all time. Perhaps complaining is a consequence of standards not being met. It nevertheless gives the impression of a fragmented, underachieving club playing the blame game.

The former United captain Gary Neville branded the current team “whingebags” in Monday’s draw at Newcastle. In particular, he arrowed in on two of their superstars, in Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes. Referee Craig Pawson tired of Fernandes’ whingeing, booking him for dissent.

Ronaldo makes no attempt to conceal his irritation, marching off down the tunnel at the end of the defeat to Aston Villa and the draw with Everton. He has always been expressive and demanding. When he rejoined United, he presumably did not expect them to be seventh now.

If Neville and some of the raft of other high-profile ex-United players feel such visible unhappiness undermined their old teammate Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the Norwegian’s vision of Old Trafford as a magical, permanently joyful place felt delusional.

Instead, whingeing has highlighted United’s problems: the disconnect between senior and junior players, the sense neither is really helping the other, the way a mismatched group seem to deem each other at fault for failings.

Interim manager Ralf Rangnick criticised his new charges’ body language in their unimpressive win at Norwich. He felt the greater issues at Newcastle came elsewhere, but it was a wretched performance, rescued only by Edinson Cavani, the warrior who sets the right tone on the pitch.

Elsewhere, however, the feeling is that United have an attitude problem. It was apparent in the capitulations to Leicester, Liverpool and Watford. It was not remedied simply by sacking Solskjaer. Most are culpable in some respects, even while some try to blame others.

Harry Maguire is the captain who has led by the wrong sort of example, suffering a crisis of confidence as his game has fallen apart. Ronaldo and Fernandes are the big personalities whose own efforts can be questioned.

Ronaldo has 13 goals in 19 games since returning but has only struck twice in open play in his last 12 league matches. He has twice been very fortunate to escape red cards for petulant hacks, against Liverpool and at Newcastle. On both occasions, he may have been protected by his status, by the fact that officials were too timid to send off Ronaldo because he is Ronaldo.

Newcastle 1 Manchester United 1: player ratings

Fernandes, meanwhile, has a solitary goal in his last 20 United matches. Against both Norwich and Newcastle, he kept giving the ball away. To some extent, a risk-taker always did, but now he has lacked the end product. Fernandes was displaced as the main man and then the penalty taker by Ronaldo. Now Rangnick’s tactics have made him move again.

The German’s 4-2-2-2 formation includes a pair of what he terms No 10s. Not, however, in the way Fernandes long had the role, as the central focal point. He is less suited to a wider role, to defending on the left against overlapping right-backs. Nor have others, Ronaldo included, reached their peak under the interim manager.

United’s meagre return of four goals in four games under Rangnick shows they have not clicked as an attacking unit. Ronaldo and Fernandes, who have played 534 of a possible 540 league minutes, are two of those responsible.

Hence more frustration and more obvious expressions of it, underlining the impression they are less a team than a collection of individuals. Now they face a group whose attitude has been a reason for their relative success in recent years. Burnley lack United’s resources, talent or stardust but they come with a promise of teamwork and unity.

For Rangnick, it completes a trilogy of clashes with the sides in the relegation zone. His side have scarcely impressed against Norwich and Newcastle. They have been Manchester Disunited more than Manchester United.

Updated: December 29, 2021, 1:34 PM