cCristiano Ronaldo’s recent exit from Manchester United marked two important endings. The final curtain on fans’ unconditional love for a pixie star who as an unused substitute couldn’t make sure to celebrate a dazzling win over Spurs. It’s also the death knell for this 37-year-old being significant – to Eric ten Hag and to the united side he seeks to build.
Both are connected. Fans witnessed their team’s best showing in recent memory and saw a man earn around £500,000 a week favoring Scott McTominay, Christian Eriksen and Anthony Ilanga when his manager made changes. They watched a footballer with pure hero status due to his brilliance throw it in their faces by acting as if he could and should overwhelm their club.
More material is how a second hit in less than three months highlights Ronaldo’s waning strength. In July, in the first half during a friendly match against Rayo Vallecano, Ten Hag had the audacity to replace a player who was not close to the match after missing the pre-season (due to a family issue). Ronaldo’s reaction was to leave Old Trafford before the final whistle in the first challenge to the new manager’s authority. This was also a band member who at the beginning of the summer sent smoke signals that he wished to leave.
United paused on Sunday and honored Ronaldo’s impressive 700-goal feat for the club with an on-pitch presentation from Sir Alex Ferguson, which was followed by discontent (now hardly news) over his dislocation during the goalless draw with Newcastle. .
Three days later, Ten Hag returned Marcus Rashford to the starting lineup at the expense of Ronaldo. The 52-year-old, whose management blends interpersonal skills, intelligence, tactical acumen and solid edge, has been very hard at explaining why. Ronaldo’s legs were not at the level of “good pressure” needed to face the visitors.
Spurs were expertly stifled as the tactical stunt made the dream come true, as goals from Fred and Bruno Fernandes gave United a stunning victory. All without Ronaldo, whose avoidance by Ten Hag even as a substitute has led to his regression to further pettiness, having previously only been a substitute in the victories over Liverpool (2-1) and Arsenal (3-1).
Ten Hag’s judgment on Ronaldo’s import was found in the manager’s disregard for him when the team suffered a serious defeat at Manchester City (6-3). Instead, Rashford and Jadon Sancho started while Anthony Martial was the jingle sent by Ten Hag.
It is hardly Ronaldo’s fault that he is in the winter of a great career. But what he can do is accept that while still fighting – the right way – for the starting berth. The next episode of Ronaldo’s TV series will be interesting, although watching Tin Hag suggests that the coach will play a smart role. He will surely fine Ronaldo for Wednesday’s game, and while any work inside the house may be kept, there is a fundamental question about how his teammates view this volatile star.
Respect may evaporate – not for the talent, hard work, silverware, personal honors, and 817 career goals – but for the character who continues to suggest being the antithesis of the all-for-one ethos that Ten Hag knows is vital to his success.
The coach will be aware that Ronaldo can still be a powerful weapon – mostly off the bench – so expect him to deliver quiet messages at Friday’s briefing when questioned about the issue, the player’s value and his future. Any and all answers will be analyzed for a subtext because the inescapable fact is that the ideal scenario – for Tin Hag, his squad and Ronaldo – would be for the player to leave as soon as possible – which is in the January window.
Few clubs can afford the player’s salary with Ronaldo, and this was the predominant reason he did not leave in the summer. But if this same problem appears to persist in relation to the winter market, it feels increasingly irrelevant as the aspect develops. Upon exiting on Wednesday, Ronaldo cemented Ten Hag’s assessment as a minor player at United – to be published when and if needed but by no means a brilliant opportunity for the 11th on the basis of past glories and a resplendent CV.
Also as a metaphor, for his second coming at United (after the 2003-2009 period), Ronaldo’s skip is appropriate: he points to his sense of being encoded, an ideal of a perfection who, though one of the greats, is still unknown, whose profile is outside Pitch via photo-conscious and choreographed social media posts, with a fierce guard of real character.
Perhaps he will seize this opportunity to change a little with a soul-searching that could lead to an apology issued Wednesday night and the revelation of the man behind the mask. Maybe, though, he won’t.
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