Replacing Ronaldo will be a team effort

Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Pete Myers would know a thing or two about trying to fill the shoes of a legend.

After all, Myers was handed the monumental task of taking Michael Jordan's spot at shooting guard in the Chicago Bulls' starting lineup following Jordan's first retirement in 1993.

Myers was a sixth-round pick by the Bulls in 1986 and developed into a journeyman who played for seven different NBA teams during his career. He averaged a career-high 7.9 points per game during the '93 season, but Chicago didn't come close to replicating the success it had during Jordan's first stint in the Windy City, until, of course, Jordan returned.

Cristiano Ronaldo may not be Michael Jordan, but he is the best player in the world, and his departure to Real Madrid from Manchester United over the summer has left a similarly massive void to fill.

Cristiano Ronaldo's departure has left a massive void to fill.
Ronaldo's form over the past two seasons in particular has been nothing short of outstanding. During that time, he tallied 67 goals while helping United claim the Premiership title in both seasons, as well as making two Champions League final appearances.

He was voted the 2008 FIFA World Player of the Year, and is likely to be in the running for the award again this year, but it remains to be seen how United manager Sir Alex Ferguson will replace the Portuguese winger.

Many thought Ferguson would purchase Bayern Munich's Franck Ribery and simply plug the Frenchman into Ronaldo's spot, keeping his system intact while hoping for minimal drop-off.

Ribery has a similar skill set to that of Ronaldo, although he is a little less dynamic, but Bayern appears intent on keeping Ribery because they have placed his value at such an absurd level that any interested team would be scared off.

Instead, Ferguson has brought in Antonio Valencia from Wigan for the relatively reasonable sum of $26 million.

However, Sir Alex is not expecting Valencia to replace Ronaldo because according to the boss, there is no player in the world who could.

"We knew that we could never replace Ronaldo," Ferguson told the Daily Express. "No matter what anyone says about the lad, for my money he is the best footballer in the world.

"He was fantastic and you don't replace that. When you've had someone who is the best at what he does, it is no good trying to find someone to do the same job."

In fact, both Ferguson and Valencia have gone to great lengths to get that message across to anyone who will listen, with Valencia just trying to focus on doing his job.

"I don't make any comparisons between myself and Cristiano," Valencia told FIFA.com. "Obviously Cristiano did very well here but when I had my first conversations with Manchester United, it was never said I was coming here as a replacement for him.

"What I want is to make sure I do my own job and concentrate on the things I do well. That is the main thing for me because I have a real desire to be a success here."

Valencia was certainly not brought to Old Trafford because of his scoring record, which includes three goals and four assists in 35 appearances for Wigan last year.

He is nowhere near the offensive equal of Ronaldo, but he does bring one thing to the squad that Ronaldo did not, and that is defensive ability.

Ronaldo often treated defending with the same enthusiasm as a prostate exam, while Valencia will provide more cover on the wing defensively and is not afraid to dig into a tackle.

Valencia's scoring record figures to improve this season simply because he will be surrounded by better talent, but there are a number of other United players who must step their game up to account for the loss of Ronaldo's offensive brilliance if the team is going to collect a fourth straight league title.

NANI:

Ronaldo's countryman made just 13 appearances in the league last season for United, but with more minutes available, he figures to receive an increased role. Nani has scored 11 goals in 73 appearances for United in all competitions, and with a bigger role, there is no reason to believe that those numbers won't improve. He scored a wonderful goal in the Community Shield against Chelsea last week, and he had a hand in United's lone goal on Sunday in the team's 1-0 win over Birmingham. However, a shoulder injury suffered against Chelsea was aggravated again on Sunday and could pose a problem.

WAYNE ROONEY:

Rooney bagged 17 goals last season but has promised to eclipse that mark this term with a switch in his role. With Ronaldo in the lineup, Rooney often dropped into midfield to receive the ball and was positioned out wide, while he will take up a more central role this season. Rooney will be playing like more of a pure striker, a position that has suited him well with England's national team. Rooney got off the mark already this season with a goal against Birmingham on Sunday, and as long as he stays healthy, there is no reason why he won't top 20 goals.

DIMITAR BERBATOV:

The Bulgarian signed with United from Tottenham just before the close of the transfer window last summer for a whopping $50 million. He scored 14 times in all competitions last season but his overall performance was largely a disappointment. Berbatov is one of the smoothest strikers in the game, but he tends to coast at times during a match and doesn't show the same burning desire as his strike partner, Rooney. Berbatov has all the ability in the world to score goals, and with the departure of striker Carlos Tevez to Manchester City, he will have plenty of chances.

MICHAEL CARRICK:

In the summer of 2006, United shelled out $28 million to Spurs for the rights to Carrick, a playmaker in midfield who also possesses some good defensive ability. He has shown steady improvement over the past couple of years, and although he is not a goal scorer, Carrick can provide the odd goal when needed. However, his most valuable attribute to the club offensively is as a playmaker that provides good service to the forwards. Ronaldo drew plenty of attention on the wing with his speed and dribbling skills, which opened up the play for everyone else. Without him, Carrick must be the one who puts Rooney and Berbatov in position to score.



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Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com
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