Sport

Manchester United will have to fight off PSG to lure Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to leave Real Madrid at the end of the season despite the appointment of Zinedine Zidane to replace Rafa Benitez as manager.

The news will come as a boost to Manchester United, although Paris St-Germain remain favourites to land Ronaldo in the summer.

Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane hands a bib to Cristiano Ronaldo.
Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane hands a bib to Cristiano Ronaldo. Photo: Getty Images

Benitez had been open to the prospect of Ronaldo leaving the Bernabeu as he attempted to create a more team-orientated philosophy at the club.

Zidane has now taken over from Benitez and revealed his plans to start with Ronaldo, Bale and Karim Benzema in attack, but that does not change the fact that Ronaldo will most likely be allowed to go at the end of the season.

Although Bale was devastated by the departure of Benitez and will reassess his future if his position changes under Zidane, the Welshman remains Real's key man in the eyes of club president Florentino Perez.

Zidane will now work to prove to Bale that he also has his full backing. If Bale were to decide that he wanted to leave, United would not be the favourites to bring him back to the Premier League, with both Chelsea and Manchester City also interested.

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United currently stand a far better chance of re-signing Ronaldo than of capturing Bale, but the Old Trafford club would have to see off the financial power of PSG to do so.

The Portuguese turns 31 next month and has been troubled by knee problems over recent years, which will no doubt contribute to Real's willingness to listen to offers. A Real insider said: "Out of Bale and Ronaldo, Ronaldo is the player expected to leave the club. Bale is still seen as the future, whereas Ronaldo's best years may now be behind him. PSG are desperate to sign him and would be favourites at the moment, but United will no doubt try."

Vanderlei Luxemburgo, the former Real manager, says that Ronaldo must stop trying to run the dressing room under Zidane. Luxemburgo said: "Zidane was a leader in the dressing room when he was a player and Cristiano should realise that now there is a person with leadership and understanding of the game in charge. The changing room belongs to the players only up to a certain point, beyond that it is the manager who's in control. Cristiano has to understand that he isn't the manager, Zidane is."

Zidane is expected to make the Chelsea forward Eden Hazard his main transfer priority, but the Belgian will not contemplate his future until he knows the identity of Chelsea's next permanent manager.

Hazard wants to play for Real at some point and Zidane is a big hero of his, but whether or not this year is the right time to move could rest largely on who Roman Abramovich puts in charge of the team.

Hazard, the Player of the Year last season, has endured a difficult campaign and a groin strain is likely to keep him out for up to two weeks, but the 24-year-old is committed to rediscovering his best form at Chelsea ahead of a new man replacing Guus Hiddink, the interim manager.

Chelsea fear that Pep Guardiola will go to Manchester City, particularly if the London club miss out on Champions League qualification, which means Atletico Madrid's Diego Simeone remains the favourite succeed Hiddink.

Hiring Simeone would be expensive and the Argentine would demand the final say on all incoming transfers, which would require technical director Michael Emenalo to accept a change in his working practice.

Other than Simeone, the Italian pair of the Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri and Italy national coach Antonio Conte are on Abramovich's shortlist.

Having tied Hazard down to a five-year contract only last February, Chelsea would demand huge money to let him go and still believe he can be the club's star man for a long time. That, though, is unlikely to stop Zidane attempting to entice him to Real, particularly if the player enjoys an impressive Euro 2016 finals with Belgium.

Meanwhile, Didier Drogba is considering announcing his retirement from playing so he can return to Stamford Bridge as a coach. Chelsea have been in talks with Montreal Impact and Major League Soccer, where Drogba still has another season remaining on his contract, over bringing the Ivorian back to work with Hiddink.

However, with MLS attempting to get a compensation fee from Chelsea, it now seems that Drogba's return will boil down to whether the 37-year-old hangs up his boots. No final decision has been made, but Drogba is tempted by the prospect of starting his coaching career with Hiddink, with whom he has a good relationship, and then being an integral part of the set-up under the next permanent manager.

Montreal Impact are desperate for Drogba to play out the final season of his contract and have attempted to negotiate a compromise whereby the striker could work for Chelsea until the MLS season starts in March. But MLS is believed to be demanding compensation for Drogba to work for Chelsea in any capacity, which has forced the player to consider retirement.

Drogba made 381 appearances as a player for Chelsea, scoring 164 goals, and joined Montreal Impact last year, scoring 12 goals in 14 games during his first season.

Telegraph, London