Power and Rejection: Is Cristiano Ronaldo Finished?

From his termination at Manchester United to his money-fuelled move to Al Nassr, where has it all gone wrong for Cristiano Ronaldo?

Power and Rejection: Is Cristiano Ronaldo Finished?

"He clearly thinks he's bigger than the football club"

Considered by many to be the best footballer ever, Cristiano Ronaldo is undoubtedly one of the greatest athletes to grace the pitch.

Whilst his return to the Premier League and reunion with his beloved Manchester United in 2021 was a monumental occasion, it didn’t quite end as everyone had hoped.

Ronaldo still scored goals and provided consistent performances for the team, but United’s issues on and off the field proved too much.

He ended up moving to Saudia Arabian side Al-Nassr, a transfer that shocked the entire footballing world.

The Middle Eastern Side offered Ronaldo an incredible £173 million a year, making him the highest-paid football player in history.

However, Ronaldo came under more scrutiny for the way in which this move happened.

His outbursts on the pitch, tense relationships and of course, infamous interview with Piers Morgan disappointed a lot of fans and made a lot of them question his motives.

We dive further into Ronaldo’s move to Al-Nassr and the reasons behind it, with many thinking Ronaldo’s career is finished.

Was his need for power too much and ultimately lead to rejection from top-tier football?

A Bitter End

Power and Rejection: Is Cristiano Ronaldo Finished?

His first season back with the Red Devils saw him score 24 goals in 37 matches in all competitions.

Whilst you cannot deny his talent, Ronaldo’s stats backed up why Manchester United signed him. They needed a striker and he provided the goals.

Many fans and pundits saw this as a triumphant season back for the prolific goalscorer. Especially considering he was 37 years old on his return.

However, United’s problems off and on the field proved too much for the team and they ended the 21/22 season without a trophy or securing Champions League football.

This proved difficult for Ronaldo to handle, the player with the most appearances in the contest (183). It would be the first time he wouldn’t play in the competition since 2003.

United knew they had to prove to Ronaldo that their ambitions were high and Ronaldo had to prove his loyalty.

In comes Erik Ten Hag, former Ajax manager who led them to three titles in just four years in the Eredivisie.

A proven manager with aggressive tactics meant United employed someone who loves high-pressing – a style that doesn’t suit an ageing Ronaldo.

It was evident from the start that Ronaldo didn’t approve of Ten Hag’s approach.

The five-time Champions League winner missed the whole of the pre-season. Although the reason wasn’t made public during this time, he later stated it was due to family problems.

Cristiano Ronaldo also missed the first match of the 22/23 Premier League season, a dismal 2-1 defeat to Brighton.

In their next game, United faced Brentford and Ronaldo started the match. But, it was a horrific performance that saw the Red Devils suffer a 4-0 defeat.

However, in the next four games, Ten Hag would bench Ronaldo and go with a new system to which they won four games on the bounce.

To make things even more clear for the manager, the next game Ronaldo would start was a Europa League game against Real Sociedad, which they lost 1-0.

The lack of goals annoyed Ten Hag but what disappointed him more was the athlete’s personality on the pitch.

Ten Hag, pundits, and fans noticed Ronaldo would flail his arms when not receiving the ball, wouldn’t press the opposition and lacked in team celebrations.

Ultimately, the boiling point came in October 2022 when Ten Hag wanted Ronaldo to come on in the last few minutes against Tottenham, to see the game out.

Ronaldo ultimately refused and he was seen walking down the tunnel before the full-time whistle.

Although he’s remained professional throughout his career, he angered fans with this behaviour and pundits believed the player was acting selfishly.

Former England and Premier League player, Danny Mills lashed out at this scenario, saying:

“He clearly thinks he’s bigger than the football club. It’s a selfish act after not being involved.

“He knows full well that everybody is going to see him walk all the way down the touchline at Old Trafford, it’s not like he can sneak out.

“I feel sorry for United and Ten Hag because it’s all going to be about Ronaldo instead of an outstanding performance against a top side.”

The growing tensions between Ronaldo and Manchester United were clear for all to see. But, what happened next shocked the entire footballing world.

The Piers Morgan Interview

Power and Rejection: Is Cristiano Ronaldo Finished?

With Cristiano Ronaldo’s place in the team constantly questioned, many thought United were already planning for life without the megastar.

Whilst Ronaldo normally stays hush on any rumours or gossip, he surprised the world when he did an interview with Piers Morgan.

In the conversation, he criticised the club, its facilities, the methods of the manager and the way United treated him.

Although he did and has always stated his love for the fans and the club as a whole, he revealed his shock at the state of United upon his return in 2021, saying:

“When I arrived, I thought everything will be different, you know, the technology, the infrastructures and everything.

“But I was surprised, in a bad way, let’s say in that way because I saw everything was the same…

“…Manchester right now to compare with that club (Juventus, Real Madrid), I think it’s behind in my opinion, which is something that surprised me.

“A club with this dimension should be the top of the tree in my opinion and they are not, unfortunately. They are not at that level.

“I don’t know what’s going on but since Sir Alex Ferguson left I saw no evolution in the club, the progress was zero.”

Further on, he spoke about his relationship with Ten Hag and how he felt the club and higher members of the board betrayed him:

“I don’t have respect for [Ten Hag] because he doesn’t show respect for me.

“If you don’t have respect for me, I’m never gonna have respect for you.”

“Yes, not only the coach, but another two or three guys around the club. I felt betrayed. People should listen to the truth.

“Yes, I felt betrayed and I felt like some people don’t want me here, not only this year but last year too.”

Ronaldo also unleashed on his former teammates, Gary Neville and Wayne Rooney who critcised him during their punditry on TV.

He explained to Piers:

“I don’t know why [Rooney] criticises me so bad, I don’t know if he’s jealous of me.

“I really don’t understand people like that or if they want to be on the front cover of the news or they want a new job or whatever.

“Probably [it’s jealousy] because he finished his career in his 30s. I’m still playing at a high level.”

On Neville, Cristiano Ronaldo added:

“They don’t really know what’s going on at the training ground, they have to listen to my point of view as well. It’s easy to criticise if they don’t know the whole story.

“They are not my friends, they are colleagues. We played together but we’re not having dinner together.

“It’s part of my journey, they keep criticising me with negativity every time. I can continue my trip and I have to catch up with people who like me.”

During the two-part interview, Ronaldo also spoke about United temporarily employing Ralf Ragnick after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s sacking:

“After the club sacked Ole, they bring sporting director Ralf Rangnick, which is something nobody understands.

“This guy, he is not even a coach. A big club like Manchester United brings a sporting director surprised not only me but all the world.

“If you’re not even a coach, how are you going to be the boss of Man Utd? I’d never even heard of him.”

Toward the end of the interview, the striker explained:

“I think the fans should know the truth.

“I want the best for the club. This is why I came to Manchester United.

“But you have some things inside that don’t help (us) reach the top level as City, Liverpool and even now Arsenal.”

These outlandish comments mixed with Ronaldo’s other views on the club’s ambition, lack of leadership, and his anger at the way United treated him sparked outrage.

Some fans agreed with what Ronaldo said, others thought he betrayed the team and some pundits thought he was out of line.

Regardless of the state of the club, many ex-footballers thought if you are part of the current team squad, then such criticism is almost throwing everyone under the bus.

The interview led to United investigating the matter and on November 22, 2022, they announced Ronaldo would leave the club by “mutual consent”.

It was an astonishing ordeal and a surprising end for who many believe to be a United legend.

Money Talks

Power and Rejection: Is Cristiano Ronaldo Finished?

No one can deny that Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the best, if not the, best striker to have played in Europe and the Champions League.

As of May 2023, he sits top of the Champions League all-time leading scorers and also has the record for most club goals ever scored.

Therefore, many believed his next venture would be to a club aiming for European glory.

Perhaps PSG where he would link up with long-time rival Lionel Messi or another stint at Real Madrid. There were even rumours of Chelsea making a January bid for the attacker.

But, many sports outlets and publications named the Saudi Arabian team, Al Nassr, as the frontrunners for Ronaldo’s signature.

And, the main reason why they were at the front of the queue was down to their astronomical contract that would make Ronaldo the highest-paid player ever.

However, his team denied this and shunned any discussions that Ronaldo would move somewhere for financial motivations.

Even during their conversation, Piers Morgan confirmed to Ronaldo:

“You want to keep playing at the highest level.

“You want to play Champions League football, you want to be breaking records.

“It comes back to my gut feeling: that if it was just about money, you’d be in Saudi Arabia earning a king’s ransom.

“But that’s not what motivates you. You want to keep at the top.”

Ronaldo agreed to the statements by saying he still believes he can score “many, many goals and help” in Europe.

Jorge Mendes, Ronaldo’s long-time agent was now tasked with finding the player a new club and the key condition was that they needed to be playing Champions League football.

However, clubs were slowly dropping out of the race.

Chelsea’s then head coach, Thomas Tuchel, dismissed the transfer talk whilst Germany’s Bayern Munich entertained the idea. However, the club’s Chief Executive Oliver Kahn revealed:

“Every club has a certain philosophy.

“I’m not sure if it would be the right signal for Bayern if we signed him.”

It was apparent that Europe’s elite wasn’t interested in the five-time Ballon d’Or winner.

Therefore, the Middle Eastern side was gaining momentum in their pursuit.

Suddenly, just over a month after leaving United, Ronaldo signed with Al Nassr on a two-and-a-half-year deal.

He became the highest-paid footballer in history, earning £173 million a year. Cristiano Ronaldo later declared that “in Europe, my work is done”.

Whilst Al Nassr is the second richest club in Saudi Arabia, behind their rivals Al Hilal, their commercial revenue for the 21/22 season was only £21.4 million.

So, how did the club muster up the money to buy the Portuguese star? Well, several Saudi entities came together to assist Al Nassr.

The Kingdom’s tourist board, Visit Saudi, a business that has ambassadors like Lionel Messi appeared as an official sponsor during Ronaldo’s official unveiling – although they weren’t previously known to be affiliated with Al Nassr.

Another was Saudi Media Company, the operator of Al Nassr’s stadium and media sales representative for the Saudi Broadcasting Authority.

It seemed money really spoke volumes in the different resources Al Nassr used to lure and afford Cristiano Ronaldo.

A Tainted Legacy?

Power and Rejection: Is Cristiano Ronaldo Finished?

Ronaldo’s move settled many debates around the world as to whether the star was motivated by football or by his finances.

Whilst the two can go hand in hand, it seemed for such a competitive and success-hungry athlete, Al Nassr was a step back.

It’s no secret that Saudi Arabian football doesn’t have the global appeal of the Premier League, La Liga, or Serie A.

Therefore, was Cristiano Ronaldo now more focused on his own brand, rather than footballing triumphs? And if he was, would this taint his illustrious career?

Or, is the striker actually striving to bring more awareness to Middle Eastern football? Could that actually enhance his legacy across the sport?

The mere fact that Ronaldo even joined Al Nassr means he could hardly do any more to endorse Saudi Arabia.

For example, the club’s Instagram had around 860,000 followers. After Ronaldo joined, they got over 12 million.

And, with such a high wealth, there’s no denying that Ronaldo’s own brand will benefit.

He is repeatedly on Forbes’ highest-paid athletes and in 2022, he was third behind Messi and NBA player LeBron James.

But, given concerns over Saudia Arabia’s human rights, which were highlighted throughout the 2022 World Cup, some commercial partners are under pressure to cut ties with Ronaldo.

However, there is a massive question mark around this due to the player’s multiple successful businesses and everpresent popularity.

Likewise, although fans around the world adore Cristiano Ronaldo, the long debate around who is the best football player of his generation, and possibly ever, was settled at the World Cup.

Messi and Argentina succeeded in their pursuit and it was a fitting tribute that Messi achieved the greatest prize in football in what will most likely be his last stint at the finals.

Many people thought Messi’s performances were better than Ronaldo’s and perhaps there was a dark cloud over the Portuguese due to the Manchester United situation.

Fast forward on and in his first 14 appearances in the Saudi Pro League, he has 13 goals and two assists.

But, having achieved such heights in his career and with his arch-nemesis Messi still competing with PSG, football fans feel Ronaldo should’ve gone to another club.

A lot of pundits also agreed that Ronaldo’s legacy hasn’t been honoured with his latest decision.

Ex-Liverpool defender and Champions League winner, Jamie Carragher said:

“‘It’s a sad end for him, isn’t it?

“Ronaldo has finished his career with an interview with Piers Morgan and Messi has won the World Cup.”

Although the player has admitted to wanting to play until he is 40, it only gives him a couple of more years to finish his career on a high.

Only months after signing, rumours are circulating that Ronaldo is unhappy at Al Nassr and wishes to switch clubs.

Brazilian icon, Rivaldo, came out to say the player was fooled by the mega-money contract.

There are signs that Ronaldo’s former club, Real Madrid, are interested in a reunion. They could make a move for him in the 2023 summer transfer window.

But, is this too big of a risk for Ronaldo? After all, his last homecoming at a club resulted in the termination of his contract.

However, Spanish outlets have hinted he may return in an ambassador-type role. But, what would this mean for the goalscorer’s career?

His pride and ultimately, ego, would not allow him to retire in such a manner.

There’s almost an inevitability that Ronaldo will want to achieve a high level of competitive success before bowing out.

If he were to look elsewhere such as the USA, would that be what Cristiano Ronaldo thinks he deserves?

There’s no denying the records and feats he has achieved in football. Regardless, he will go down as one of the best superstars to grace the game.

But, the rumours, uncertainty and dismay around Ronaldo have for sure impacted the way he is viewed in the footballing world.

A lot of clubs would love to have him.

Though, could his power-hungry acts at United and money-motivated move to Al Nassr diminish any hopes of a return to Europe?

Balraj is a spirited Creative Writing MA graduate. He loves open discussions and his passions are fitness, music, fashion, and poetry. One of his favourite quotes is “One day or day one. You decide.”

Images courtesy of Instagram.

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