THE IMPACT of Cristiano Ronaldo’s TV interview may have been exactly what he was hoping to achieve, forcing a parting of the ways with his club, Manchester United, but as with all cases of a disenchanted employee speaking out, the aftershock will not be positive on the whistle blower. CR7 and Manchester United are finished, the only thing left to do is to work out a financial settlement that suits both parties. On the other hand, United may well be exploring ways to limit the damage by seeking a way to insist that a contract has been breached. Regardless of the terms, a divorce is certainly in progress.
What Ronaldo did was hit at the very heart of one of football’s 10 commandments, that no player is bigger than the club. This is why United cannot allow what happened to go unpunished or without some sort of repercussion. Ronaldo may be one of the greatest of all time, but he is, after all, paid to play for United and therefore owes the club some sort of disciplined behaviour. Parallels can be drawn with George Best, but United eventually showed even him that they were bigger than the individual. Ronaldo has confirmed that today, a player can be bigger than a club. It’s not the first time, Kylian Mbappé and Neymar have donned the cloak of the primadonna at Paris Saint-Germain and Lionel Messi was allowed his say at Barcelona. These players are prized assets; expensive, cossetted, delicate thoroughbreds with fragile egos, media profiles and business brands. Upset them and you are in danger in upsetting the equilibrium.
Manchester United, when they signed Ronaldo at the start of 2021-22, probably anticipated the return of CR7 would enhance their own brand and also rejuvenate the team on the playing field. But should a club of United’s stature have been so desperate to gain a psychological boost from signing a 36 year-old? Did this not signal that United had lost the plot a little? And he wasn’t the first veteran to be courted in this way – Zlatan Ibrahimović and Edison Cavani were also signed in recent years in the late autumn of their careers. Ronaldo told everyone he felt United were in decline, but did he not realise their enthusiasm to have him back was effectively a symptom of the deterioration at Old Trafford?
There was always going to be a messy conclusion, especially when it was clear United could no longer guarantee Champions League football for Ronaldo. The debacle at the club with Solskjaer and Rangnick also indicated the club had lost its way. It is totally unreasonable to expect Erik ten Hag to build his team around a disaffected Ronaldo, and if the push came to shove, the United board would have to come down on the side of the manager.
Ronaldo’s timing couldn’t be more perfect. He wants to leave, United need him to go, but nobody looks too keen to sign him as the cost and the baggage now outweighs the benefits. He surely knows it, hence he needs a shop window to stake his claim. His first shop window was the TV interview, where he told his story, but the response has not been particularly sympathetic, in fact, by breaking some of football’s unwritten rules, he has arguably alienated people. If anything, he has marked himself as a difficult character to have in a squad.
The second shop window will be Qatar 2022, where he has at least three games to show what he can still do for Portugal, against Ghana, Uruguay and South Korea. He’s a big occasion man, so it is likely he will impress and that will surely be enough to entice a club to sign him. But while that might satisfy Ronaldo, the damage to his reputation will linger on. Nobody likes to see players break ranks, or to imply they are bigger than a club or in need of more respect than their team-mates. Implying there is a lack of respect for a manager also suggests a lack of loyalty and discipline – if it has been done before, it can be done again. By claiming he has been betrayed also hints at betraying others. The Athletic reported that 88% of United fans do not want him to play again for the club – who is feeling most betrayed?
It’s a sad end to a career that has delighted so many people, but football has a habit of making errors of judgement that backfire on clubs, managers and players. Most people with an objective eye could have predicted this would happen and many will tell you that there will be a club owner out there willing to gamble on Cristiano Ronaldo. That’s why Qatar 2022 is so vital for this remarkable player.