Cristiano Ronaldo sent Manchester United critics message in three moments including kind gesture – Steven Railston

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Ahead of Manchester United’s match against Norwich on Saturday, Cristiano Ronaldo greeted each of his teammates individually in the Old Trafford tunnel as they prepared for kick-off. They certainly aren’t the actions of someone that is a ‘problem’ at the club.

Ronaldo scored United’s opening goal yesterday after some brilliant work from Anthony Elanga. The youngster dispossessed Ben Gibson in his own area before squaring the ball to Ronaldo for an easy finish into an unguarded net. Ronaldo immediately pointed at Elanga to give him the credit and the pair celebrated the goal together. That’s not something a ‘problem’ player would do.

Ronaldo soon scored another with a powerful header, but United eventually surrendered that two-goal advantage. Norwich — who have scored the fewest goals in the Premier League this season — took advantage of United’s inability to defend and Ronaldo’s goals had been made redundant.

ALSO READ: Cristiano Ronaldo saves Manchester United again as fans make their feelings clear to Paul Pogba.

United were desperate to prevent embarrassment. They needed Ronaldo to save them again.

United eventually claimed the three points on Saturday afternoon after Ronaldo obliged with more heroics. The forward scored the game’s decider to complete his hat-trick with a powerfully struck free-kick and he saved his teammates’ blushes once again.

The No.7 scored three goals against Norwich and the match ball was deservedly handed to him. That was Ronaldo’s second hat-trick for United this season and just his third for the club. You wouldn’t blame Ronaldo for taking the ball home as a family keepsake, but he kindly gifted the ball to 17-year-old Alejandro Garnacho instead. That’s not the behaviour of a ‘problem’.

It has been a miserable season for United and it’s telling that David de Gea has been the club’s standout performer. De Gea has the ultimate model of consistency, but Ronaldo’s performances haven’t been far behind. The pair have emerged with some credit.

Ronaldo endured his longest goal drought for more than a decade this season and he looked like a fading force throughout the winter months. The 37-year-old had often looked exempt from the effects of ageing but he finally appeared mortal this term. While that might have happened regardless of where Ronaldo played his football, playing for this United side has likely exacerbated his decline.

It goes without saying the five-time Ballon d’Or winner is naturally not the player he once was. Ronaldo has regressed and yet he’s still managed to score 21 goals this season. Ronaldo has redefined what it means to be a goalscorer in his career and he’s now redefining what it means to decline. Ronaldo remains prolific and utterly talismanic in the Premier League in his latter years.

Edinson Cavani has preferred to holiday than to play football this season and Mason Greenwood has been suspended and unavailable. It is frightening to think about where United would be without Ronaldo. That makes the signing an obvious success.

Ronaldo’s contribution on the pitch has been outstanding — he’s single-handedly won United six points in recent weeks with hat-tricks against Tottenham and Norwich — but his influence on the dressing room in a turbulent season has been equally as important.

The Manchester Evening News understands Ronaldo was holding the United dressing room together during the final weeks of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tenure and his presence around the club has never been needed more than in this bleak campaign.

Ronaldo’s influence off the pitch is harder to quantify than his goals, but with the club’s standards seemingly slipping all the time, his leadership has been priceless. The way Ronaldo carried himself against Norwich was testimony of that.

The way Ronaldo trains every day, prepares for matches and the way he represents the mentality of the club ensures he’s the perfect example for United’s youngsters. Such figures were all around the club during United’s most successful years, however, they’re now few and far between in this gutless playing squad. Ronaldo has served as a reminder of what being Manchester United truly is.

It has been laughable to see some critics accuse Ronaldo of being a problem this term. He’s United’s leading goalscorer by some distance and they would be worse off without him. He has been instrumental in preventing standards from slipping even further.

There are six Premier League games remaining this season and Ronaldo has absolutely nothing to prove.

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