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Cristiano Ronaldo's Fractious Relationship With Man United Exacerbated By Early Exit

Cristiano Ronaldo didn't feature at all in Manchester United's brilliant 2-0 win over Tottenham, but still managed to make all the headlines.

By Andrew Woodin
Cristiano Rinaldo reacting to something during a game

When it’s all said and done, there’s no denying that Cristiano Ronaldo will go down in the history books as one of the most elite footballers to ever grace God’s green earth, but as insatiable as his appetite for scoring is, it’s sometimes overshadowed by self-generated drama. Whether you blame Manchester United’s inner turmoil on CR7’s lack of form or jsut a poor team fit, it appears the one-time talisman's increasingly fractious relationship with the Red Devils has taken another blow after he left the bench – and his teammates and coaches – early during his side's brilliant 2-0 victory over Spurs Wednesday in the Premier League.

While riding the pine, Portugal’s favorite son apparently seethed under his glossy, forever-sun-kissed skin as he watched Bruno Fernandes and Fred score – two players who have struggled mightily to find the back of the net – against a depleted Tottenham defense. Then, as the clock approached the 90-minute mark, like a scorned Hollywood ingenue who lost a coveted role, the generational forward abandoned any sense of professionalism and marched down and into the depths of the tunnel, shouldering equal parts despair and anger while millions of slack-jawed fans watched in shock. Is this really happening… again? How could such a titan of the sport and one of Manchester United’s legends be reduced to the reckless, emotional tirades of us mere mortals? The nerve-rattling pattern’s not just a bad dream; it’s a full-blown nightmare.

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Part of what scares us the most about nightmares is the frequency in which they occur, and unfortunately, the four-time Golden Boot winner is as prone to attention-seeking outbursts as flies are to – well, you get the gist. After being substituted during the Red Devils’ 3-1 victory against Brentford in January – Ronaldo’s first game back after being injured – cameras caught him sulking, head in his hands, after watching his substitute Marcus Rashford score United’s third and final goal. That’s just a light dose of historical saltiness. In 2009, he scored to provide his squad some breathing room against Man City, but after then-manager Sir Alex Ferguson took him out, he turned his wrath upon his tracksuit, slamming it on the ground for all to witness.

Another one of his textbook tantrums saw him go toe-to-toe against another living football legend, Zinedine Zidane. Just months after Ronaldo scored the winning penalty to lift Real Madrid to the 2016 Champions League final, the star had lost his luster, and Zidane pulled him from a match against Las Palmas. As Zidane met him on the pitch to pull him, Spanish television station Cuatro caught the mercurial striker laying into the Frenchman, peppering their interaction with expletives. Like a proper manager should, Zidane completely downplayed the incident, but judging from the fact that Ronaldo wouldn’t even look at his manager – one of the most respected footballers in the history of the sport – tells you everything you need to know.

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And thus, therein lies the age-old problem with Ronaldo and other superstar athletes who are afforded a different set of criteria when it comes to behavioral accountability. Permitting that petulance to spread, in turn, leads to a nauseating blitz of unavoidable hot takes in the media and on social platforms. As maddening as that is, the ripple effect is even worse: as adoring spectators, we’ve become so accustomed to these ego-driven episodes that, before long, we’ve universally capitulated to whatever problem du jour our athletic icons are ranting about, leading to more runaway trains of frenetic outbursts and preposterous demands. Coaches and managers get sacked; owner are hammered; teams are forced to undergo expensive and exhaustingly long rebuilds – the list goes on and on. Where does it stop?

The hard truth hanging over the aging Ronaldo at the moment is that he doesn't appear to be in Manchester United manger Erik Ten Hag's plans. The soft-spoken Dutchman might appear to have little to no desire to insert himself into the Ronaldo beef, but that’s by design. He’s made a clear calculus of how he wants his squad to play, and even to the footy neophyte, it’s clear the 37-year-old is not an ingredient in his recipe. While others like England’s former striker Gary Lineker called Ronaldo’s departure “unacceptable” and “so poor,” former defender for England Micah Richards broke it down perfectly.

“His manager had problems with him at the start of the season, during preseason, and to then carry this on… I just think there is only one way this needs to go now,” Richards told BBC Radio 4. “They need to come to an agreement in January [during the transfer window], and they need to let him go. He is undermining the manager there, so I think it’s best if they just part ways.”

Considering reports are now streaming in about Manchester United allegedly willing to “break the bank” to acquire Tottenham’s Harry Kane, Ronaldo's days at Old Trafford certainly seem to be numbered, and that could be a blessing for both sides. But it shouldn't be lost on fans that such blatant disrespect for club managers and teammates shouldn't be tolerated, even if your name is Cristiano Ronaldo.

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