Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United has come to an acrimonious, but recently inevitable, end.
Barely a week after the 37-year-old megastar went scorched earth on the club, the two sides mutually agreed for Ronaldo to leave Manchester United, the team announced on Tuesday, just midway into his second season back with the team.
“The club thanks him for his immense contribution across two spells at Old Trafford, scoring 145 goals in 346 appearances, and wishes him and his family well for the future,” Manchester United said in a statement. “Everyone at Manchester United remains focused on continuing the team’s progress under Erik ten Hag and working together to deliver success on the pitch.”
In an exclusive sit-down with Piers Morgan, Ronaldo, who is in Qatar and set to play his first World Cup game for Portugal on Thursday, said that he felt misled by Manchester United and most importantly, by first-year manager ten Hag. Ronaldo said he has “no respect” for ten Hag, who he claimed was among multiple individuals who tried to force him out of the club in the offseason.
“I felt betrayed,” Ronaldo said in the interview. “I don’t care, people should listen to the truth. Yes, I felt betrayed. I feel that some people didn’t want me here, not only this year but last season, too.”
Just hours after the announcement about Ronaldo’s future, Sky Sports reported that the Glazer family plans to announce their intent to sell Manchester United. The family also owns the NFL’s Buccaneers.
Ronaldo’s animosity toward ten Hag had come to a boiling point prior to the interview. Ronaldo started only one of Manchester United’s first six games of the season, coming on as a substitute in the other five. He did not play in the next three games, then came on as a substitute, then got another start in match week 11, just his second start of the season. He did feature in all six of the Red Devils’ Europa League games, though.
He was subsequently a reserve for the Oct. 21 game against Tottenham. Late in the match, Ronaldo could be seen on the sideline in a shouting match with ten Hag before he exited early into the tunnel. After the game, ten Hag said Ronaldo refused to enter as a substitute when asked. It was the second similar incident, after Ronaldo left early from a preseason friendly against Rayo Vallecano in July.
“I am the manager and I am responsible for the top sport culture here and I have to set standards and values and I have to control them,” ten Hag said at the time. “We are a team, and in the team, we have values and standards and I have to control that. After Rayo Vallecano, I told [him] it was unacceptable but he was not the only one, but that is for everyone so when it’s the second time, there will be consequences.”
Following the blowup, Ronaldo trained while separated from his teammates in practice, but after a brief suspension, returned to availability. He started four consecutive games between the Premier League and Europa League, and for a moment, it appeared as if tensions had cooled.
Then came the interview.
Ronaldo finished with three goals in 16 appearances with Manchester United this season.
He also ripped the team’s leadership since the 2013 retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, who coached Ronaldo and originally brought him to Manchester United for his first stint.
“Since Sir Alex left, I saw no evolution in the club. Nothing had changed,” Ronaldo said.
Although he scored 38 goals in all competitions last season, Ronaldo did not mesh with ten Hag’s new system this season, which requires his forwards to press the opposition high up the field and carry a high defensive intensity. At this point of his career, Ronaldo is not well-equipped for those responsibilities — and does not want them.
After starring for Manchester United between 2003-2009, leading the team to three Premier League titles, two FA Cup titles, a Champions League title and winning the Ballon d’Or as the best player in the world, his much-anticipated return last year was welcomed as a swan song. In between, he played for Real Madrid and had a one-year spell at Juventus.
Fourteen months later, he is leaving Manchester United as a villain.