In addition to damaging his reputation at Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo is making it much more difficult for himself to leave Old Trafford.
The 37-year-old is in danger of becoming more trouble than he is worth, both for United and any club that might still be interested in signing him, following his most recent act of disobedience when storming off to the locker room as an unused substitute before the end of Wednesday’s 2-0 win against Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League, according to sources.
The former Real Madrid and Juventus forward hushed the skeptics in his first season back at United last year by scoring 24 goals in all competitions as the squad struggled through its worst Premier League campaign. He completed a €15 million move from Juve after leaving United for Real in 2009.
Despite claims from many detractors that Ronaldo would upset Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team’s balance, the Portugal international could at least point to his goal total as evidence that he performed admirably on the field while many of his colleagues fell far short of expectations. But in his second season back at Old Trafford, all the negativity that Ronaldo was expected to bring has already begun to show.
Ronaldo has become a needless distraction at the club ever since his colleagues made it apparent in June that he wanted to move for a Champions League team, overshadowing the advancement the team has made under Erik ten Hag since the manager was hired in the summer. By driving out from the stadium during the second part of the preseason friendly against Rayo Vallecano in July, Ronaldo enraged Ten Hag and excused his absence from the entire preseason tour of Asia and Australia with a claim of family obligations. Ten Hag called Ronaldo’s behavior on that particular day “unacceptable.”
Despite Ten Hag’s public declarations to the contrary, insiders have told ESPN that the former Ajax manager would not have objected to Ronaldo leaving Old Trafford this summer. Ten Hag is realistic about Ronaldo’s abilities and is pleased to have his goal threat on the team, but he also acknowledges that because of his international notoriety, incidents of petulance like Wednesday’s unauthorized early exit to the locker room become hot topics.
To make matters worse, Ronaldo’s dismissal on Wednesday came just three days after he displayed disdain when he was replaced by Marcus Rashford during Sunday’s 0-0 home draw with Newcastle United, shaking his head visibly in a sign of protest. That particular time, Ten Hag stated that while he could understand a player of Ronaldo’s caliber being upset about being replaced, it was only another illustration of the impact Ronaldo is having at Old Trafford.
Although the victory over Tottenham was one of United’s best performances under Ten Hag and one of the team’s most thrilling outings since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, you wouldn’t think so because Ronaldo has made sure that the fallout would center entirely about him and his deeds.
At his best, Ronaldo was accustomed to stealing the show for the right reasons, but he doesn’t seem to be able to accept the fact that he isn’t the focus of attention at United anymore. He has made six appearances off the replacements’ bench this season, but only two starts in the Premier League. He has spent 340 total minutes on the field in the league, but only one goal and one assist have been made.
Ronaldo reminded us earlier this month that he is still United’s leading goal scorer and a clinical finisher of half-chances, but he does not contribute enough when he is not finding the back of the net. Ten Hag has the guts to admit this and choose players who are better equipped to provide the work ethic that Ronaldo cannot or will not provide.
Ten Hag had to make a decision regarding Ronaldo and chose to mostly rely on him as a replacement. It is a compromise that may have worked if Ronaldo had been willing to accept his diminished role as he approaches the milestone of turning 38 in February, but sadly for United and Ten Hag, he has been unwilling to adjust to his new reality.
When it comes to his own health and longevity, Ronaldo is still the epitome of a professional, but he has now reached the point in his career where he must accept that he is no longer the player who propels the squad but rather only a member of it.
Any great player would find it tough to make the switch, but Ten Hag is finding it more and harder to trust Ronaldo to contribute to the club due to his recent behavior. When the transfer market opens in January, the best teams will be looking to avoid him because he has developed into a problem that United can do without.