Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
He scored 42 goals and was the main reason Manchester United captured both the Premiership and Champions League titles last season, however Cristiano Ronaldo may be more valuable to the Red Devils this campaign as a member of Real Madrid.
The Spanish giants are reportedly prepared to fork over a record transfer fee in the range of $130 million for the Portuguese winger.
While United is not exactly cash strapped - they generated over $450 million last year according to Sports Business Group - they would be wise to take the money and use it to improve the team in a number of areas instead of relying on Ronaldo to once again shoulder much of the scoring burden.
One player who would help immediately is Ajax striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who led the Eredivisie last season with 34 goals.
The chances Cristiano Ronaldo demands a move to Spain in the next couple of years are good.
You can make a case that scoring goals in the Dutch league is like shooting fish a barrel, but Huntelaar is a legitimate goal-scoring threat and would give the team something it has lacked since the departure of Ruud van Nistelrooy following the 2005-06 season, a big target up top.
At over six feet tall, Huntelaar would be a perfect compliment to either Wayne Rooney or Carlos Tevez, both of whom prefer to drop into the midfield to receive the ball and run at players. Huntelaar is a classic sniper who provides a great target inside the box for crosses, which neither Rooney or Tevez does, and he is quite capable of finishing around the net.
It would likely cost United around $45 million for the services of the 24- year-old Huntelaar, but his presence would give the United attack another dimension and would serve as a great target for Ronaldo's potential successor, Andrei Arshavin.
The 27-year-old Russian winger created a major buzz with his performance in Euro 2008 last month, where he led Russia on a surprising run to the semifinals by scoring two goals and assisting on another in only three games. He also helped Zenit St. Petersburg capture the UEFA Cup this past season and is the target of a number of top teams such as Barcelona, Arsenal and Chelsea.
It would take close to $50 million to lure Arshavin to Old Trafford, but he could step right into Ronaldo's role on the wing, leaving little drop off in offensive production.
He is not nearly the goal-scorer that Ronaldo is, but while the Portuguese winger can get caught up in one-on-one battles with defenders, Arshavin is a better passer who would create more chances for the team's other attack options.
The price of both Arshavin and Huntelaar combined would still probably leave some cash left over for the team to address another area, goalkeeper.
A successor to Edwin Van der Sar, who will turn 38 in October, would be a good way to spend the remainder of the Ronaldo money, and would represent a smart investment for the future.
The Dutch netminder will likely be playing his final season for the Red Devils, and although second-string keeper Tomasz Kuszczak has shown plenty of ability at age 26, he does not appear to be the long-term answer between the posts, leaving United to look elsewhere for a world-class goalie.
The Ronaldo transfer saga has been going on for the past few months, and despite such a hefty potential transfer fee, United has remained intent on keeping its midfield magician.
It is hard to blame them for wanting to keep a player who has already won the Carling Cup, FA Cup, Premiership and Champions League titles before his 24th birthday. He is also all but guaranteed to collect the first of what could be multiple FIFA world player of the year awards in December.
His departure would change the dynamic of last year's team, which was arguably the best of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson's career, but it would not be as big a gamble as some might think.
Ronaldo signed a contract extension in April 2007 that keeps him at United until June 2012, but the chances that he is still suiting up in the home dressing room at Old Trafford in four years are very slim.
He has already expressed a desire to play in Spain, which is much closer to his native Portugal. Also, his game is more suited to La Liga than the Premiership.
In Spain, he would have the ability to fully display his trademark flare, where in England - which is a much more physical league - his dazzling footwork tends to be blunted by overaggressive defenders.
Even if United keeps Ronaldo for this season, the chances he demands a move to Spain in the next couple of years are pretty good anyway, so why not cash in when his value is highest.
Ronaldo underwent ankle surgery on Monday that will keep him out of action for the next six weeks, and although the injury is not a major concern, he might miss the beginning of the season or possibly start slowly because of it.
There is no doubt that with Ronaldo, United will once again be among the top teams Europe. However, by hanging onto the superstar, the team runs the risk of getting less when he departs in a year or two.
The writing is on the wall; Ronaldo is destined for Spain, and trying to keep him just doesn't add up.