“In my life, the best timing is always my timing,” Cristiano Ronaldo said this week. Well, now we are about to find out if he is right. Less than 48 hours before Portugal are due to kick off their World Cup campaign against Ghana, arguably the most-high profile footballer in the world suddenly finds himself as its most high-profile free agent and whatever the fall-out from his ugly, self-engineered exit from Manchester United, no one could accuse him of not backing himself to deliver.
After an extraordinary 10 days in which Ronaldo launched a blistering attack on Manchester United, its manager and owners with an incendiary interview that culminated in his inevitable but no less dramatic exit from the club, the next 10 days could offer us an intriguing window into what life post-Old Trafford looks like for a player fighting desperately to hold back the sands of time.
After Ghana on Thursday, Portugal face Uruguay four days later and then South Korea in their final Group H game on December 2. Ronaldo could have the wind in his sails and be looking forward to a Round of 16 tie against one of Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland or Cameroon or fleeing Qatar with his tail between his legs. Either way, it should be quite the spectacle.
It takes a certain kind of hubris to behave in the way Ronaldo has and yet, while some – Wayne Rooney included – are convinced the days of the five-time World Player of the Year scaling those rarefied heights are long gone, the 37-year-old does not see it that way. To him, the World Cup represents the perfect shop window, a chance to remind everyone – not least potential suitors and the critics – of his talents at the same time as targeting the one major trophy still to elude him in his gilded career.
Of course, that assumes Ronaldo’s agent, Jorge Mendes, does not already have something lined up although there seemed to be more clubs distancing themselves from a move for the player than were queuing up to give him a new home.
Todd Boehly, the owner of Chelsea, presented Thomas Tuchel with the chance to sign Ronaldo in the summer. Tuchel passed but has since been replaced by Graham Potter, whom it is hard to see arriving at a different conclusion to the German assuming he also has the final say there.
Newcastle have also distanced themselves and so have Inter Miami, who are owned by the former United captain David Beckham and have been linked with Lionel Messi, Ronaldo’s long-standing rival as the world’s best player.
Other clubs in America’s MLS may think differently and interest from the Middle East is likely to remain, even if Ronaldo did turn down an eye-watering two-year contract worth £233 million from Saudi club Al Hilal in the summer. Sporting Lisbon and a return to the club where it all started? If that was ever to come to pass, it would be on nothing like the contract United gave Ronaldo and which made him the highest-paid player in Premier League history.
Perhaps a more storied club still lies in wait for Ronaldo but, beyond it becoming a vanity project for someone, it is hard to believe too many owners or managers look too fondly on his actions at United in recent weeks.
Ronaldo has attempted to claim that his interview was all part of the greater good but most saw it for what it was: a flagrant exercise in self-interest intended to help hasten his exit from a club he tried to leave in the summer and a team in which he was no longer a regular starter or of great importance.
All of which piles the pressure on Ronaldo to deliver for Portugal – and himself – over the coming weeks and the first test will come against Ghana when he will hope he fares a lot better than Messi and Argentina did in their opening match against Ghana. He may need to produce the goods, too.
Fernando Santos, the Portugal coach, and his staff may still rate Ronaldo as the best they have in the box but that is not the case outside it and, given the way Uruguay play, it is thought some consideration may be given to dropping the captain for that match depending on how things go against Ghana.
He will certainly have to offer a lot more than he has done when called upon by United this season, which has yielded a solitary Premier League goal and plenty of deeply underwhelming performances.
Of course, the World Cup has been punctuated over the past two decades with stories of superstar names thriving at the tournament on the back of troubled seasons. From the Brazilian Ronaldo in 2002 and Francesco Totti with Italy four years later to Spain’s Andres Iniesta in 2010, Bastian Schweinsteiger, of Germany, in 2014 and France’s Paul Pogba in Russia four years ago, the past five World Cups have been littered with tales of players who overcame an array of problems to inspire their countries to glory.
Admittedly, none of those were 37 at the time but then stranger things have happened. Over to you, Cristiano.
Ronaldo will be banned for the first two games of any new club he joins after he was punished for “petulantly” slapping a phone out of the hand of a teenage Everton fan in April. He was hit with a two-match suspension by an FA independent disciplinary commission on Wednesday for his behaviour at Goodison Park.
Ronaldo was walking down the tunnel at the end of United’s 1-0 defeat when he slapped a mobile out of the hand of a 14-year-old Everton fan who was filming him. The player argued he had been concerned for his own safety after spotting someone holding an object, did not intend to hurt anyone and only found out later the person holding the object was a boy.
Since Ronaldo has now left United, the commission said the ban would apply at any new club he joins in the Premier League or be transferred to a new association if he was to move overseas.
“The suspension we have imposed must have effect,” the commission said in their written findings and referenced article 12.1 of Fifa’s regulations that stipulate: “Any disciplinary sanction of up to four matches or up to three months that has been imposed on a player by the former association but not yet (entirely) served by the time of the transfer shall be enforced by the new association at which the player has been registered in order for the sanction to be served at domestic level.”
The ban would have been three matches but in mitigation it was acknowledged that Ronaldo had immediately admitted the charge, apologised publicly and that the incident was out of character. He was also fined £50,000 and warned about his future conduct.
The three-man commission, which was chaired by Christopher Quinlan KC and included former players Stuart Ripley and Tony Agana, rejected Ronaldo’s claims that Ronaldo reacted because of “legitimate concern … for his own physical safety and well-being”.
They said Ronaldo’s behaviour was “both improper” and “violent” and described it as a “deliberate and forceful slap down” and a “petulant act” that caused damage to the mobile and “reddening” to the fan’s hand.
Ronaldo, who was cautioned by the police over the matter after admitting offences of battery and criminal damage and ordered to pay £200 in compensation to the teenager, had admitted an FA charge of improper and/or violent conduct but requested a hearing which took place via Microsoft Teams on November 8.
Ronaldo had told the hearing that he felt “uncomfortable” approaching the tunnel and that the crowd were aggressive and abusive towards him and his United team-mates.
He said he caught sight of an arm “quite low in front of him pointing towards his injured leg” and that he “could not see to whom the arm belonged, but could see it was ‘holding an object’ but he did not know what.” “He said his instinctive reaction was to slap ‘the object away’,” the commission said. “He said this incident was ‘an instinctively proactive reaction’.”
The teenage supporter said Ronaldo acted without provocation and hit his hand “very hard” and the boy’s mother said she was “disgusted and shocked”. A witness said they saw Ronaldo slap the phone out of the boy’s hand and felt it was “overly hard” and another witness said the incident was unprovoked.
A police officer present said he saw the boy “recording [the player’s] leg and laughing” before Ronaldo slapped the phone to the ground. The boy’s mother later received a text from Ronaldo, who invited her to contact her, invited her son to a match as a guest and apologised on Instagram.
David Newell, United’s protection and security manager, said the Everton fans were “very abusive” towards the United players and saw some liquid thrown and argued that from a “crowd management and player safety perspective the situation was dangerous for [the United] players”. United’s technical director Darren Fletcher was also a character witness for Ronaldo.
- The Telegraph report