Manchester United should accept their Midlife Crisistiano Ronaldo get-out opportunity

Cristiano Ronaldo, now likely formerly of Manchester United Credit: Alamy
Cristiano Ronaldo, now likely formerly of Manchester United Credit: Alamy

Cristiano Ronaldo may not have given the message that he intended with his 90-minute long badmouthing of Manchester United.


So this, presumably, is how it all ends. If there’s one thing that we can be reasonably certain about after Cristiano Ronaldo met Piers Morgan for a 90-minute long interview in which he tells us what he’s really thinking, it’s that he has surely now played his final game for Manchester United, even though his contract is supposed to run until the end of this season.

But if he has, as The Sun puts it, ‘had enough of the sniping, the sneering, and the endless blame-game bulls*** that’s been flung at him over the past few months’, why would he choose to do a lengthy televised interview in which he trash-talks the club – including the current manager, a former manager, and a player with whom he enjoyed a fruitful relationship earlier in his career – and burn whatever few bridges he still had with the supporters?

To a point, none of this is particularly surprising. Cristiano Ronaldo says what he wants and does what he wants. That much was evident in his refusal to come on as a substitute towards the end of United’s game against Spurs in October, and in his prime hissy fit last summer, when he was substituted in a pre-season clash with Rayo Vallecano and was then photographed leaving the stadium before the end of the match.

But the ‘disrespect’ that he talks about seems strangely misplaced. It was completely understandable that Erik ten Hag should have left him out of the squad for the Chelsea match following the Spurs debacle, but it can hardly be said that his punishment was in any way onerous. He was back in the team for their Europa League group match against Sheriff Tiraspol – and scored – and was then made captain for their trip to play Aston Villa, which ended in a poor team performance and the end of a five-match unbeaten run. If this is what ‘disrespect’ looks like, there are likely a large number of players who would like to be shown the same amount by their clubs.

In his statement following the Spurs incident, he said, “As I’ve always done throughout my career, I try to live and play respectfully towards my colleagues, my adversaries and my coaches”, and that, “I’m the same person and the same professional that I’ve been for the last 20 years playing elite football, and respect has always played a very important role in my decision-making process.”

It is difficult to take these comments very seriously now. But then again why should we, when there’s been such a mounting body of evidence building over such a long period of time that the best interests of anybody other than Cristiano Ronaldo are ever anything but the last thing on Cristiano Ronaldo’s mind?

From touting himself around other clubs last summer after deciding at a time that suited him and no-one else that he deserved Champions League football through to this interview, it is very clear that there is a definite point at which ‘respect’ stops being important to him. This would appear to be when he has to show some himself towards a club that has been paying him half a million pounds a week for the last 15 months.

 Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

But is this scorched earth policy likely to deliver him what he actually wants? He wants to be playing in the Champions League, but after all these tantrums and now this latest escapade, does he seriously believe that a team playing in Europe’s elite club competition would want to risk spending a lot of money on such a player?

The dynamics of keeping a squad of highly-paid professional footballers happy can be fragile at the best of times. It seems inconceivable that any club in the last 16 of the Champions League would want to smash through their wage structure for a player whose best years are quite clearly now behind him, who has not really been delivering on the pitch this season, and who seeks to drop atom bombs from his pram when he doesn’t get what he wants, the way he wants it, and when he wants it.

Even criticising Erik ten Hag seems woefully ill-directed. United are just six points behind Manchester City and are five points better off than they were this time last year. With Arsenal and Newcastle having improved to an extent that few anticipated before the start of the season, securing a top-four place this season remains a substantial challenge, but Manchester United’s improvement under Ten Hag has been there for all to see. As a work in progress, the team is currently at the very least on schedule. And every criticism that is ill-judged in this way only reinforces the idea that he would burn Old Trafford to the ground if he thought he could personally benefit.

The exit door has now been firmly pushed open, but where does that door take him? One final enormous payday will almost certainly come his way, possibly in MLS or from Saudi Arabia, but whatever offers he may receive now seem unlikely to match the prestige of Manchester United, the Premier League and perhaps even the Europa League.

It should be added that his criticisms of the club over its infrastructure aren’t entirely without merit. The Carrington training ground had fallen behind its rivals (though work has already started on redevelopment there), while the club’s inaction over the state of Old Trafford has also been widely-criticised and, while the club did announce redevelopment plans there too, progress seems likely to be glacially slow. Few Manchester United supporters would argue that the club’s hierarchy don’t deserve criticism over the way in which they’ve run the club over the years.

But it remains the case that, for a player who seems so obsessed with image, Cristiano Ronaldo seems so bad at this sort of thing. If it seems completely obvious to everybody looking on that you’re trying to force your way out of a club, making the claim that the club is trying to force you out is a pretty stupid way of doing so. And, as with any outburst like this, it remains the case that if he truly respected Manchester United as much as he seems to believe that Manchester United should respect him, he might have kept his criticisms to himself, at the very least until after he’d actually left the club.

In a sense, the aimless rage is understandable. He’s clearly no longer the first name on the Manchester United team sheet, his star power increasingly dependent on what he used to do rather than what he does in the here and now. The football world no longer revolves around his axis, and that can be difficult to come to terms with. It is well-documented that the passing of time and the end of a career can be extremely difficult for players.

It might even be the case that he has done Manchester United a  favour with this interview. If the opportunity is there to terminate his contract forthwith, then the club should probably take it. It certainly seems that no good can come from him staying on the Old Trafford payroll until the end of this season.

But by acting in this way, with timing so unsubtle that the interview might well have been called, ‘I WISH TO INFORM POTENTIAL SUITORS THAT I WILL BE AVAILABLE IN THE JANUARY TRANSFER WINDOW’, it feels like he’s done himself few favours, displaying a lack of professionalism completely at odds with his lavish wages. It all starts to look more than a little like a mid-life crisis, and if the option is there to terminate his contract is there for Manchester United, the club should accept it with open arms.

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