Dubai: The plan has worked. Cristiano Ronaldo – a serial winner everywhere he has played – has got his way and has won yet again. The Portuguese superstar had been rumoured to be seeking an exit from Manchester United ever since Erik Ten Hag was appointed the new coach in June. His situation at the club was like a ticking timebomb. That bomb has exploded but I don’t think it is United that are picking up the pieces.
Ronaldo – who top-scored with 24 goals last season - had been acting up ever since the Dutchman walked through the door. During pre-season he walked out of the Old Trafford dugout while the team were still playing a friendly against Rayo Vallecano during which he had been replaced at half-time. He did the same thing during the Premier League clash against Tottenham as an unused sub. You can never walk out on your teammates, but he did it twice.
He had been stirring up trouble for the coach at every opportunity and even took a swipe at the fans earlier this week by showing off a new £124,000 luxury watch with a design depicting the famous header he scored against the Red Devils while playing for Real Madrid. But from the moment he shook hands with Piers Morgan at the end of that explosive TV interview – where he made derogatory comments about the club, the Glazers, the coach and his own team-mates breaking just about every rule in the book – he knew it was mission accomplished and that his time at United would be up. It was indeed the final act and after all his hissy fits and histrionics the club issued a statement last night saying his contract had been terminated with immediate effect.
The love affair between United and their favourite No 7 has ended in a messy divorce but I don’t think any tears will be shed by the fans for the way he has behaved. He is a global superstar and should be setting an example but he has done anything but.
Oddly, he will take to the pitch tomorrow for Portugal in their FIFA World Cup opener against Ghana unemployed and as a free agent. But you have to wonder which club will be willing to pay him the sort of money he was on at United. He was earning £500,000 a week there but will need to accept a massive pay cut wherever he goes next because the facts of the matter are that he is not the same Ronaldo anymore. He doesn’t show enough of that explosive pace he once had, he doesn’t appear to want to chase after balls played in the channels, he doesn’t close down defenders, he doesn’t defend from the front and so it has to be asked what exactly he can bring to a team and a club? Shirt sales alone cannot be reason enough.
I don’t believe he will retire just yet because even if he is playing at 50% of his capabilities he can be a handful. He has done the business in England, Spain and Italy but is yet to test himself in France or Germany. Paris-Saint Germain could afford his astronomical wages but where would they play him when they have Messi, Mbappe and Neymar leading the line? Bayern Munich have long been linked with him and this is where I feel his next stop could be. But the Bundesliga is a very demanding league and he will need to give 100% or he will be found out. Has he got the same desire he once had though? This is another question. In Qatar I expect him to have a big say because the Jules Rimet trophy is one that is missing from his glittering career.
But wherever he goes the manner of his departure will tarnish his image at United, even though I think he is probably too vain to care about that. Funnily enough, the team has played a lot better without him this season and now the coach can continue to build a vibrant young side now that he is gone. They will have Anthony Martial fit and ready to lead the attack after the World Cup while Marcus Rashford looks to be invigorated again.
Ronaldo’s exit leaves United and Ten Hag far better off.