What next for Cristiano Ronaldo? How the relationship with Man Utd turned sour 

Portugal star has ‘almost certainly’ played his last game for United as he is dropped for Chelsea clash

Cristiano Ronaldo was an unused sub in Man Utd’s 2-0 win over Tottenham
Cristiano Ronaldo was an unused sub in Man Utd’s 2-0 win over Tottenham
(Image credit: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)

As Manchester United celebrated their best win under the management of Erik ten Hag, the club’s most famous player was not on the pitch or on the sidelines for the remaining minutes of the 2-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur. Cristiano Ronaldo, an unused substitute for Wednesday’s Premier League fixture, left the bench in the final moments and trudged away alone towards the tunnel at Old Trafford.

It has since emerged that Ronaldo “refused a request from Ten Hag to come on as a late sub before making his early exit”, said Josh Fordham on talkSPORT. In reaction to Ronaldo’s actions, United’s Dutch head coach has “come down hard” on the “superstar rebel” and the club has confirmed that the forward will not be considered for selection for tomorrow’s league clash away at Chelsea.

Ten Hag’s decision to drop Ronaldo has the “full backing of the club”, said The Telegraph. And the situation marks “a dramatic escalation of the tension in Ronaldo’s relationship with Ten Hag and United”.

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As well as his axing for the game at Stamford Bridge, Ronaldo is set to train alone and also faces being slapped with “a £1m fine”, said Jeremy Cross in the Daily Star. Ten Hag is “a stickler for discipline” and is “getting fed up” with the Portuguese’s behaviour.

Ronaldo responds – but no apology

Breaking his silence last night, Ronaldo released a statement on Instagram and explained that while he has “always tried to set the example”, unfortunately “that’s not always possible and sometimes the heat of the moment gets the best of us”. Even though the social media post was lengthy, he “failed to make an apology”, said Jack Figg in The Sun.

Ronaldo has reportedly “lost his remaining dressing room allies” and it’s understood that the player has shown “thinly veiled disdain for Ten Hag and his coaching team”, said Liam Morgan in the Daily Mail. To the extent of “blatantly ignoring one senior staff figure”.

The refusal to come on against Spurs is the latest in a “long line of incidents that have blighted his return to English football” and “threatens to tarnish the forward’s legacy”, said David Kent in the Daily Mail. In July he failed to report for pre-season training and for United’s tour of Thailand and Australia. Then at one pre-season match against Rayo Vallecano at Old Trafford, he “stormed out” before full-time.

Following United missing out on Champions League football this season, he also failed to secure a move away after submitting a transfer request earlier in the summer. He has been “making waves since”, Kent added.

Cristiano Ronaldo pin badges for sale outside Old Trafford

Cristiano Ronaldo pin badges for sale outside Old Trafford
(Image credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Where next for CR7?

Now in his second spell at the club, the 37-year-old returned to the Red Devils in August 2021 after nine seasons at Spanish giants Real Madrid and three in Italy with Juventus. First departing in 2009, the forward’s future once again looks likely to be away from Old Trafford.

The United legend has “almost certainly played his last game for the club”, said Neil Custis in The Sun. Ten Hag now wants “either the player’s contract, that runs to the end of the season, ripped up” or for the Portuguese to be “dumped in the January transfer window”.

Several members of the United squad were “already upset with him for trying to engineer a move out of the club early in the season”. However, “there were no takers in the summer window” and now the Portugal captain faces being sidelined just a month ahead of the Fifa World Cup in Qatar.

Ronaldo’s “walkout” marks the “final curtain on his waning power” at Manchester United, said Jamie Jackson in The Guardian. His time at the Theatre of Dreams is turning into a nightmare, but few clubs around the world are “able to afford” a player with his salary. This was the “prevailing reason why he did not depart” in the summer.

One exit route away from Old Trafford could be to Inter Miami. The Major League Soccer franchise, co-owned by former United and England star David Beckham, could be looking for a star name to replace Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain. Inter Miami “may well do all they can” to bring Ronaldo to the United States and have the “perfect chance” to end his Man Utd “hell”, said Joseph McBride in the Daily Mirror.

In his glittering career Ronaldo has scored more than 800 goals and has won league championships in England, Spain and Italy. He is a five-time Ballon d’Or winner and the record goalscorer in men’s international football and in the Uefa Champions League.

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Mike Starling is the digital features editor at The Week, where he writes content and edits the Arts & Life and Sport website sections and the Food & Drink and Travel newsletters. He started his career in 2001 in Gloucestershire as a sports reporter and sub-editor and has held various roles as a writer and editor at news, travel and B2B publications. He has spoken at a number of sports business conferences and also worked as a consultant creating sports travel content for tourism boards. International experience includes spells living and working in Dubai, UAE; Brisbane, Australia; and Beirut, Lebanon.