“We are not good enough,” admitted Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea when faced with the fact the Red Devils will now go five years without winning a trophy.
A limp 1-0 home defeat to Atletico Madrid on Tuesday saw United bow out of the Champions League at the last 16 and the final chance of silverware from a miserable season slip away.
The despondent reaction to the full-time whistle as Atletico boss Diego Simeone sprinted down the Old Trafford touchline in celebration was in stark contrast to the jubilation that greeted Cristiano Ronaldo’s homecoming for a 4-1 win over Newcastle in September.
Ronaldo’s return to the club where he first made his name as a global superstar was supposed to be the difference maker in the bid to challenge again for major trophies.
After finishing second to Manchester City in the Premier League last season, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane had already been signed for in excess of £100 million by the time Ronaldo snubbed the advances of City in the final days of August.
Rather than a return of the glory days Ronaldo experienced under Alex Ferguson prior to his then world record move to Real Madrid in 2009, he has succumbed to the slide United have been on ever since Ferguson departed as manager in 2013.
Interim boss Ralf Rangnick is United’s fifth manager since the legendary Scot stepped aside with the club that used to boast about being the best in the world, now being left behind by local rivals Manchester City and Liverpool.
Since Ferguson led United to a third Champions League final in four years in 2011, they have spent £1.2 billion on players for a return of winning just two knockout ties in European club football’s top competition.
For the fifth consecutive year, United’s European season was ended by Spanish opposition.
But this version of Atletico are a far cry from the sides that reached two finals in three years between 2014 and 2016 only to be foiled by Ronaldo’s Real Madrid.
Just like United in the Premier League, Simeone’s men face a battle in the final months of the La Liga season just to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Yet, they held out with ease after Renan Lodi rounded off a well-worked counter-attack to open the scoring four minutes before half-time.
“We were fully aware that against this team you need to score the first goal yourself,” said Rangnick, fully aware of his own side’s limitations.
Ronaldo had consistently been the scourge of Atletico in the Champions League in years gone by – also scoring hat-tricks to knock them out for Real in 2017 and Juventus at this stage in 2019.
However, the competition’s all-time record goalscorer has now bowed out in the last 16 for the past three years.
The 37-year-old has finally started to show his age in recent months and for the first time he completed 90 minutes in the Champions League without registering a shot.
Whether Ronaldo stays for the second year of his contract at United will depend heavily on if they make it into the Champions League next season.
Yet, cutting their losses looks like the best solution for both parties as United face up to another expensive and extensive rebuild under a new manager.