LONDON - Cristiano Ronaldo’s Manchester United reunion was trumpeted as the return of Old Trafford’s prodigal son, but it ended on Tuesday in a divorce precipitated by his stinging tirade against the club.
Two days ahead of Portugal’s opening game at the World Cup, United said they were severing ties immediately with a player who was once the hottest property in football.
The Portugal forward told Piers Morgan on TalkTV last week that he felt “betrayed” by the Premier League club and had no respect for manager Erik ten Hag.
He also hit out at the club’s US owners, the Glazer family, stating they care far more about the money-making potential of United than results on the pitch.
The 37-year-old even fired a broadside against former teammates Gary Neville and Wayne Rooney, saying “they are not my friends” after recent criticism of him from the pair.
The club were cautious in their initial response, but eventually decided there was no way back for an all-time great who burned his bridges.
Ten Hag reportedly told United bosses that Ronaldo should not play for the club again after his outburst, a demand met by those in charge and one that ultimately suits both parties.
His immediate release means Ronaldo is free to look for a new club, but it is not certain there will be a suitable landing spot for the player, despite his status in the game.
The veteran, who recently scored his 700th club goal, had angled for a move in the summer window after United failed to qualify for this season’s Champions League.
But Premier League and European giants opted not to move for the five-time Ballon d’Or winner, leaving him stuck at United.
They will likely be even more wary now, having witnessed Ronaldo’s behaviour.
He said he was offered a two-year deal worth €350 million (S$500 million) by a Saudi Arabian club and remains insistent there is interest from Europe’s top clubs.
Not only is Qatar surely his last chance to win the World Cup, it is also now a prime opportunity to show he can still perform at the highest level.
He has been linked with a return to Sporting Lisbon, where he came through the youth ranks, but agreeing a financial package could be a stumbling block for a player who was on a reported weekly pay packet at United of around £500,000 (S$800,000).
Should a European side not come calling, a move to MLS is a possibility as well.
While there is much uncertainty about the future, what is clear is that Ronaldo struggled to accept his reduced status in the game at a club that has fallen from the pinnacle of English football.
In 2009 he left a United side who were one of the top teams in Europe, but the club he rejoined in the summer of 2021 limped to a sixth-place finish in the Premier League despite his 24 goals in all competitions.
Ronaldo made his name in his first spell at Old Trafford, developing from a prodigiously gifted teenager when he arrived in 2003 into one of the deadliest attackers in world football.
He won his first Champions League trophy and first Ballon d’Or during a trophy-laden spell under Alex Ferguson.
He left United after six years for Real Madrid, where he became the club’s greatest-ever goalscorer, winning the Champions League four more times and scoring 450 goals in 438 games.
Ronaldo spent three more prolific years at Juventus from 2018 before a return to Manchester, where he proved he was still a force to reckon with.
But the feverish excitement generated by his second coming is now a distant memory.
The forward was a peripheral figure this season in an improving side under Ten Hag and was recently disciplined for refusing to come on as a substitute.
Ronaldo, who has scored just three goals this season, had returned to the team in recent weeks and even captained the Red Devils in a 3-1 loss at Aston Villa, which turned out to be his final appearance for United.
In 2018 he was voted by Manchester United fans as the club’s best player of the Premier League era but his explosive words brought about a sad exit after his homecoming turned sour. AFP