If you don’t live under a rock or in a cave, you’ve most definitely heard about the explosive interview Cristiano Ronaldo has given to Piers Morgan or maybe you have even actively followed it. Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably one of the greatest footballers of all time, the most followed personality on Instagram, 5-time Ballon d’or winner and holder of numerous footballing records. Suffice to say, Cristiano needs no introduction. And, to a certain extent, neither does Piers Morgan.
Ronaldo began his career in Portugal before moving to Manchester United where he established himself as one of the most exciting young players in the world of football during his 6-year stint. So, it was only natural that he re-join Manchester United again after 9 years at Real Madrid and 3 years at Juventus to draw the curtains on one of the most flourishing footballing-nay-sporting careers of all time. It was a match made in heaven, a perfect ending to a perfect story, whichever way you looked at it.
Ronaldo joined after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had brought the zing back to Manchester United and helped them finish second in the Premier League in the previous season. With Ronaldo back, Manchester United would now be back to competing consistently for the biggest prizes at the highest level of football. Something they lacked since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. Fans were extremely excited. The tweet announcing Ronaldo’s arrival went viral within minutes and shirts with Ronaldo’s name broke all selling records. Stage was set for one of the greatest footballers of all time to once again with trophies with his beloved club.
However, things don’t always work out as envisaged. By November, Manchester United had sacked Solskjaer and appointment a relatively unknown “caretaker manager” Ralf Ragnick until the end of the season. United then wont through the tumultuous period of subpar performances and ended the season in 6th place. Ronaldo finished the season with 24 goals which might not seem like much for a player of his ability and reputation but given that the next in line was Bruno Fernandes with 10 goals, this absolutely seems like a mighty achievement.
I lay this groundwork to establish a front for a pro-Ronaldo narrative in a sea of anti-Ronaldo narratives. I am a Manchester United fan myself. I grew up watching the greats like Beckham, Roy Keane, Van Nistelrooy, & Scholes produce outstanding performances for Sir Alex Feguson day in day out. But after Sir Alex’s retirement, things were never the same as I discussed in one of my previous articles on this platform. The point is, the seemingly “Ani-Manchester United” interview is not anti-Manchester United at all. It resonates with everything the previous managers have said or implied; however, maybe, not as clearly or as boldly.
Jose Mourinho, one of football’s best coaches termed guiding Manchester United to runners-up spot in the Premier League as one of the best in his career because “people don’t know what is going on behind the scenes.” Luis Van Gaal warned Erik Ten Haag against joining the “Commercial Club” Manchester United prior to his joining of the Old Trafford outfit. So, most of the criticism that Ronaldo has dished out is nothing new, rather the ground reality of the demise one of football’s greatest clubs so called “The Mecca of Football”.
Ronaldo went on to explain that reason behind him missing the preseason training sessions. It was alleged that Ronaldo was on a strike because he was trying to force his way out of the club, but the reality was much different to what the media and even his ex-colleagues were saying. He went on to explain how his newborn daughter had been sick and she was admitted to hospital at that time and since she was the only one of the twins to have survived during birth a few months back, Ronaldo was scared to his bones. He talked about how the Manchester United bosses did not entirely believe him when he gave them his reasoning for not being at the Preseason.
Another example was Erik Ten Haag wanting Ronaldo to come on in a game and Ronaldo refusing to come on and then leaving the stadium. In return, Ronaldo received a 3-day suspension. Ronaldo’s side of the story was that he felt humiliated when the coach asked him to come on during the dying minutes of the match. A player who has been at the epitome of the game for about 2 decades and has scored the greatest number of club and international goals does not deserve to be treated this way. Ronaldo further explained that he felt a lack of respect on the part of his manager. He stated that he regretted leaving the pitch in that manner, but he felt that the suspension was a bit harsh given that throughout his career, he has been one of the most disciplined footballers and a thorough professional.
In the interview, Ronaldo also expressed his disappointment at his former teammates who continue to criticise him publicly without ever trying to understand his side of the story. There’s a concept of “Paradigm Shift” discussed by Stephen Covey in his famous book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, that discusses the change of perspective a person can experience once they try to understand the “other side of the story”. Maybe some of the ex-teammates of Ronaldo should have tried to find out his?
This all smells of an extremely toxic workplace culture that not only Ronaldo but many players before him and managers as well have talked about. Look, I’ve been at a toxic workplace with extremely insecure and incompetent boss. It drains you; it takes away your ability to work, think and perform. In simple words, you can be a Cristiano Ronaldo and still fail to score goals. And that has exactly what has happened to Ronaldo this season under Erik Ten Haag. Ronaldo simply hasn’t got firing. He has scored only 3 goals this season. Does this have anything to do with Ronaldo’s ability as a professional? Let me borrow a phrase that most Pakistanis will instantly recognize; Absolutely NOT!
The only thing that can be argued is the timing of the interview. Could Ronaldo have chosen a better time? Perhaps! Or perhaps this was the perfect time. He can no longer bear the toxicity at Manchester United and wants out. He waited till just before the January Transfer window (which would allow him to depart), giving his agent ample time to explore opportunities for him that are away from this toxicity.
There is no doubt that Erik Ten Haag can take United to a more successful future just as there is no doubt that Ronaldo can still perform at a very high level for a couple more years but it’s time for both parties, Manchester United and Ronaldo, to part ways. The match made in heaven, was not so after all.