VSristiano Ronaldo’s latest walkout on Manchester United scored two important endings. The final curtain on fans’ unconditional love for a sulky superstar who, as an unused substitute, couldn’t bear to stick around to celebrate a scintillating win over Tottenham. It’s also the death knell for the 37-year-old’s relevance – to Erik ten Hag and the United team he’s looking to build – as pointed out by the manager who dropped him from the squad for Saturday’s game at Chelsea.
The two are linked. Fans witnessed their team’s finest display in recent memory and saw a man who pulls in around £500,000 a week sulk because Scott McTominay, Christian Eriksen and Anthony Elanga were favorites when Ten Hag made changes. They saw a footballer who enjoys pure hero status due to his genius throw it back at them by acting as if he could and should outshine their club.
More material is how performing a second crush in less than three months highlights Ronaldo’s waning power. In July, at half-time in a friendly against Rayo Vallecano, Ten Hag had the audacity to replace a player who was not in good shape after missing most of the pre-season (at because of a family problem). Ronaldo’s reaction was leave Old Trafford before the final whistle in a first challenge to the authority of the new manager. He was also a member of the squad who, earlier in the summer, had sent out smoke signals that he wanted to leave.
Cut to Sunday and United’s class show in honor Ronaldo’s remarkable feat of 700 club goals with an on-pitch presentation by Sir Alex Ferguson, which was followed by (now hardly new) annoyance at being abducted during the goalless draw with Newcastle.
Three days later, Ten Hag restored Marcus Rashford to the starting XI at Ronaldo’s expense. The 52-year-old, whose management combines people skills, intelligence, tactical acumen and a tough side, was concise in explaining why. Ronaldo’s legs just weren’t up to the ‘good press’ needed to fight off the visitors.
Cue Tottenham expertly smothered as the tactical ploy worked like a dream, with goals from Fred and Bruno Fernandes handing United a fine triumph. All without Ronaldo, whose avoidance by Ten Hag even as a substitute showed his decline into further insignificance, having previously only come on as a substitute in wins over Liverpool (2-1) and Arsenal (3-1) . An equally damning verdict from Ten Hag on importing Ronaldo was found in the manager ignoring him when the team were badly beaten at Manchester City (6-3). Instead, Rashford and Jadon Sancho started while Anthony Martial was the cavalry Ten Hag had sent for.
It’s not Ronaldo’s fault that he is in the winter of a sparkling career. But what he could do is accept that while continuing to fight – in the right way – for a starting spot. The next installment of the Ronaldo soap opera will be intriguing, although Ten Hag’s sighting suggests the manager will play a shrewd hand. He may also have fined Ronaldo for Wednesday’s strop and there’s the material question of how the teammates he deserted view this moody superstar.
Respect can evaporate – not for talent, hard work, serial silverware, personal honors and 817 career goals – but for a character who continues to suggest being the antithesis of spirit. all for one that Ten Hag knows is vital to achieving Success.
The manager will be aware that Ronaldo can still be a potent weapon – mainly on the bench – so expect him to offer calm dispatches at Friday’s press conference when asked about the matter, the player value and future. All responses will be parsed for subtext as one inescapable truth is that the ideal scenario – for Ten Hag, his group and Ronaldo – would be for the player to leave as soon as possible, which is in the January window.
Few clubs are able to afford a player on Ronaldo’s salary, which was the main reason he didn’t leave this summer. But while this same issue seems to persist regarding the winter market, it seems less and less relevant as the side evolves. Stepping out on Wednesday, Ronaldo reinforced Ten Hag’s assessment that he is peripheral to United – there to be deployed when and if needed, but by no means a shoo-in for the XI based on former glories and past glories. a sparkling resume.
As a metaphor, too, for his second coming to United (after the spell from 2003 to 2009), Ronaldo leaving is appropriate: it indicates the sense of him as a cipher, a daisy-chained perfectionist who, although he is one of the greatest, remains unknowable, whose profile beyond the pitch is via image-conscious and choreographed social media posts, with the real personality fiercely guarded.
Perhaps he will take the opportunity to change a little with a soul-searching that could lead to an apology issued for Wednesday evening and the revelation of the man behind the mask. But maybe he won’t.