Former Manchester United striker Louis Saha believes that a tactical tweak in the Premier League has stopped his former teammate Cristiano Ronaldo from matching his "jaw-dropping" Real Madrid and Juventus figures in his second term at Old Trafford.
Ronaldo has been linked with a summer departure following his absence from the Manchester derby, with former Red Devils captain Roy Keane throwing doubt on the notion made by interim manager Ralf Rangnick that a hip flexor ailment was to cause.
The veteran has been the club's leading scorer in all competitions this season, having taken on a more central role than he did during his previous tenure, although he is nowhere near the goalscoring levels he has achieved elsewhere.
And Saha, who played with a youthful Ronaldo at Old Trafford under Sir Alex Ferguson, believes that a shift away from a cross-heavy approach is to blame.
In an exclusive interview with ESPN, Saha explained that "because of the way teams are playing now, you don't have that much crossing."
It used to be a lot of crossing with Giggsy [Ryan Giggs] on one side and Cristiano on the other, and you could be [Ruud] van nistelrooy, Carlos Tevez, Wayne Rooney, or anyone else, and you could receive balls."
"However, I've only seen one cross into the box, and no one has crossed the ball."
Ironically, the alteration is the type of change that might not have been detrimental to the version of Ronaldo who broke through at Old Trafford after joining from Sporting CP in 2003, primarily playing out wide during his first few seasons with the club.
A disagreement with ex-Juventus manager Maurizio Sarri over the appropriate role for Cristiano Ronaldo has resulted in Ronaldo moving to a new position at Real Madrid, and Saha has linked the Portugal star's abilities to his own.
It's easier physically to play as a number nine than a number seven, especially now that you have to actually defend," he explained.
The fact that he is 37 and not a machine makes me think it was a smart choice, and his expertise in the game, regardless of position, can be used wisely, as he demonstrated extremely effectively.
For me, the ability to disrupt the defensive line by coming in from either side reminded me a little bit of my own approach.
Although Ronaldo has only 15 goals in 30 games this season, he has scored 30 or more in all but one of the 12 seasons since leaving United for Real Madrid, Saha has urged the club's youth to seize every opportunity to learn from the senior figure.
The Frenchman, who arrived at Old Trafford five months after the Portuguese star, has stated that despite being several years older, he was able to learn from the then-teenager, albeit Ronaldo divided opinion when he spoke out about younger players being unable of accepting criticism.
"I recall when I was 18, 19, and 20, some older players spoke with me, but I translated it as: 'Cristiano, you need to improve — they know more than you do, they have more experience than you do, and they have been through more difficult times,' Ronaldo told Sky Sports in January."
"However, if you criticize someone, they will not tolerate that. I'm not referring to our players specifically, but to the team as a whole. I am aware that I have children. Occasionally, when you are a little bit more assertive, they respond negatively, so you must strike the appropriate balance when speaking with them."
Saha, on the other hand, has been unsurprised by his former colleague's career, characterizing him as a "great player" and advising younger players to take advantage of the opportunity to spend time with someone who has won nearly every award imaginable.
"When I joined the club, I knew [he] would be a phenomenon because of the way he worked and dedicated his entire life to results, statistics, and trophies," Saha explained.