Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t need to burn his bridges at Man Utd and the only lasting damage was done to his legacy. For Erik ten Hag, it’s little more than a minor inconvenience…
That Cristiano Ronaldo interview hasn’t even aired yet, but already the fall-out is beginning to clear. So what now?
Presumably Piers Morgan asked the Portuguese megastar that very question because the rest of us would love to know the answer. For Manchester United, it is already clear. Nothing changes. It’s business as usual. Which risks triggering Ronaldo even more. The last thing he wants is to be irrelevant.
Like a spoiled child, a brat used to having his every whim indulged, Ronaldo will be incandescent when his latest act of petulance passes without gaining the attention it craved. The 37-year-old has tried to hog the spotlight in recent months with a series of hissy fits, some of them an instinctive reflex upon being cast in the shadows of others, but this latest subordination wasn’t spontaneous. Sitting down with Morgan was a calculated move. We just can’t fathom what he hoped to achieve.
The end game is, presumably, a move away from Old Trafford, but that was on the cards anyway. United have sussed that they don’t need him on the pitch and, despite all that lovely engagement, they can certainly live without his presence off it too.
Ronaldo remained at United against his will during the summer, but that was less about the Red Devils and more a consequence of no other club, none befitting his majesty anyway, being prepared to offer him an escape route. When he wanted out in 2008, he pulled the slave bullsh*t. This time, he was oddly quiet when a queue failed to form of credible clubs dying to fall at his feet.
Actions – like twice walking away from matches before their end – spoke louder than words until he could keep quiet no longer. But speaking up is unlikely to have done him or Jorge Mendes any favours. As January approaches, if any chairman was tempted to smash their wage structure and risk whatever harmony exists in their dressing-room, they will almost certainly think again after seeing Ronaldo pour petrol over his bridges and toss a match over his shoulder.
The only thing ablaze, however, is his legacy. And even that will be largely restored with the mere passing of time. United, and Erik ten Hag’s dressing room, ought not to be touched by Ronaldo’s arson.
With this timing, Ronaldo has set out his intention to never set foot back inside Old Trafford, not least any time soon. Which will go down just fine with Ten Hag and many of the team-mates the No.7 views with disdain. The simple fact is United are now a better team without Ronaldo clogging up their attack.
If he was as pivotal to United as he seems to believe then you could understand some indulgence being afforded to Ronaldo. Even last season, when he was the club’s top scorer, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick had to tread carefully around the returning superstar because without his goals, it would have been an even darker period. And it was already f***ing bleak. Couple that with the crippling FOMO suffered by United board and their reluctance to open the door for him in the summer was somewhat understandable given all the other chaos at Old Trafford.
Now, with Ten Hag arguably ahead of schedule in restoring United’s prospects and credibility, hard as the habit may be to break, the club need bend over backwards no more for Ronaldo. Indeed, now they have the opportunity to terminate his contract, they absolutely should. Ideally, as soon and as quietly as possible. Make Jesse Lingard’s non-existent farewell appear a parade by comparison. Because, for United, this is not about Ronaldo anymore. Ten Hag and his squad deserve to be rid of the half-a-million-quid-a-week burden currently holding them back.
It was apt that on the day Ronaldo’s interview was first previewed, United secured a dramatic late victory, with an up-and-coming star grabbing the spotlight before a fading one wrestled it back. Alejandro Garnacho has never hidden the reverence he holds Ronaldo, which perhaps explains some of the attempts to rein in the teenager’s ego.
Ronaldo’s status means nothing he does is ever inconsequential, but his desperate interview changes very little aside from his own options.