Posted By Godwin Onyemaechi
The Portuguese parted company with the club on Tuesday evening, bringing an end to a drawn-out and divisive divorce that has tarnished his legacy
Manchester United’s meeting with Newcastle at Old Trafford on September 11, 2021 was a game like no other. Media passes had been oversubscribed, the directors’ box was overflowing with superstars and, outside, there were middle-aged men clad in ill-fitting jerseys they hadn’t worn for nearly two decades.
Everyone was there to see one man: Cristiano Ronaldo.
This was the return of the king, and he reclaimed his throne in sensational fashion, scoring twice on his second debut.
“Viva Ronaldo!” the supporters shouted throughout an empathic 5-1 victory that appeared to suggest that a team coming off a second-placed finish in the Premier League might actually go one better in 2021-22.
“It was the right time,” he insisted. “I want to make history, to help Manchester to have great results and win trophies.”
In that context, then, the confirmation of his premature exit on Tuesday night means his second spell at Old Trafford cannot be considered as anything other than a calamity.
He may have scored some goals, but he didn’t achieve any. There were few ‘great’ results, and zero trophies.
Worse still, he actually managed to tarnish his reputation in the eyes of the fans – something that would have been unthinkable even just a few months ago.
Even some of his staunchest supporters, including Rio Ferdinand, admitted that the way in which he went about deliberately forcing United into cancelling his contract was utterly indefensible.
He had launched a withering attack on nearly every single person connected with the club that had left his position untenable. United had no option to belatedly let him leave, just a few months after he had first informed them that he wanted out.
There was no way out during the summer, though. Other than a lucrative offer from Saudi Arabia, United had received no serious interest from the kind of elite European side that Ronaldo wished to join.
It will, thus, be fascinating to see whether a top team comes forward now that he is available on a free transfer. One suspects not, given his wage demands will remain colossal, while his recent behaviour, on and off the field, will have only reinforced the perception that Ronaldo is now more trouble than he’s worth.
There are also tactical issues to consider, too, obviously. Ronaldo is clearly unsuited or averse to the pressing game employed by so many modern managers. Even Vincent Kompany quipped on BBC on Tuesday night that he wouldn’t sign the five-time Ballon d’Or winner for Burnley because “we need players who can run”.
Ronaldo’s reluctance to press may not be solely his fault, of course. The man is 37. It’s been evident for years now that he needs an attack constructed around him; that he need younger legs to run the hard yards for him. Which is why he will be looking forward to Portugal’s clash with Ghana on Thursday.
The World Cup offers the Portugal captain the perfect platform to convince club coaches that he still has plenty to offer at the very highest level – as well as silence his critics.
It’s certainly not beyond the realms of possibility. But United fans will care little how he fares at Qatar. They’ll mainly just be relieved that this ordeal is over. They had grown sick and tired of Ronaldo’s antics.
He had become a distraction, his petulance overshadowing some of their finest performances this season. Indeed, it quickly became clear that United were a better side without Ronaldo, than with him.
His departure will, as the statement confirming his exit read, allow United to focus on “continuing the team’s progress under Erik ten Hag”.
In a clear sign of Ronaldo’s dwindling influence, the confirmation of departure was also arguably immediately overshadowed by the news that the Glazer family, are considering “strategic alternatives to enhance club growth” – which includes finally selling up after years of supporter unrest.
Ronaldo, of course, is no fan of the Glazers, claiming that they don’t really care about United. And they certainly have a lot to answer for when it comes to analysing United’s decade of underachievement.
However, Ronaldo’s criticism felt like a deflection, one of many attempts during that already infamous interview with Piers Morgan to absolve himself of any blame for the complete collapse of his relationship with the club he supposedly loves so much.
His die-hard supporters will obviously claim that everything Ronaldo told his No.1 fan was correct. They will argue that he was, in fact, let down by everyone at United; that the club’s owners, coaches and players simply weren’t on his level; that his frustration was both inevitable and understandable given nobody around him was pursuing excellence with quite the same passion.
There may well be an element of truth in that, given we’re talking about a club plagued by mediocrity since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson nearly a decade ago. But, in reality, it doesn’t really matter who you believe or who is to blame for this messiest of divorces.
It was simply doomed from the start, a romance that never should have been rekindled, and both parties had long since realised that they are better off without one another.