The Athletic

The accusations of stagnation, betrayal and disrespect of Cristiano Ronaldo

TalkTV gave him the full Transfer Deadline Day treatment. A countdown timer, placed in the bottom right corner of the screen, told viewers how much time was left before they could hear Cristiano Ronaldo in full.

Jeremy Kyle was the latest to do so after wrapping up his own, less-heralded interview with comedian Dom Joly. A final surge of interest came as the minutes ticked by, not that it was necessary. “The first part of this explosive interview comes next,” Kyle said.

The wait had lasted three days. A 72 Hour track which began on Sunday evening had teased a global audience with the best bits of Ronaldo’s interview with Piers Morgan and, so damning was the content, ensures that the veteran striker’s days as a football player Manchester United will soon be finished.

“This is the interview the whole world is talking about,” Morgan said.

Or the first part, at least. It was the first half, a 45-minute discussion focused on Ronaldo’s grievances and heartbreak over the past 18 months. It was the interview he had promised since attempts to leave Old Trafford this summer came to nothing. A good time, according to him, to set the record straight on the eve of a World Cup.

Morgan was the chosen vehicle for revenge, gently presenting the scene for Ronaldo to take aim. And, as in most of his career, the captain of Portugal did not fail.

As the juiciest snippets promised in the days before the interview went live, shots were fired at Manchester United’s hierarchy, its former manager Ralf Rangnick and the former teammates who have dared to suggest that his powers are about to decline.

United head coach Erik ten Hag can expect his gutting moment when the second part of an interview filmed at Ronaldo’s home last week airs on Thursday evening. The Glazers are also a target.

That rare window in Ronaldo’s mind wasn’t all angst and frustration though. Time was spent detailing the tragic death of his newborn son, Angel, in April and the strength of his relationship with his girlfriend, Georgina Rodriguez.

Ronaldo still has more to say about his fate with United, with stinging accusations of betrayal and disrespect to go deeper into, but here are five relevant points from the first half of this interview with Morgan.

‘United’s progress sucked’

“Everything was the same. They stopped on a clock, in my opinion, which surprised me.

These damning words had been in the headlines for days and their potency was not watered down by a larger context. Ronaldo claimed time had stood still for United since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, with stagnation off the pitch indicating a wider malaise.

A move to Manchester City had been ‘close’, he said, but the emotional appeal of United, the club that launched his career as a teenager, outweighed the apprehensions he now has chosen to make known.

“A club of this size should be the top of the tree and unfortunately they are not,” he said. “They are not at that level. I don’t know what’s going on but since Sir Alex Ferguson left I haven’t seen any progress at the club, progress was zero.

United rail against this suggestion. The club’s training ground is being redeveloped with significant investment, while a reconstruction of the science and data teams is underway. For Ronaldo, however, it clearly wasn’t enough.

Rangnick and the last Coca-Cola

“Deep down I never saw him as the boss because I saw certain points that I never agreed with.”

If there was a moment when Ronaldo’s return to United started to turn sour, it can easily be attributed to Rangnick’s appointment. Last November, in the weeks following the dismissal of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a figure who retains the respect of Ronaldo, it was decided that United should appoint the Lokomotiv Moscow sporting director as a short-term solution. Ronaldo, it seems, was never sold to Rangnick, who in February relegated his top striker to the bench.

“To be honest, Piers, that’s something I don’t understand,” said Ronaldo, who said he had never heard of Rangnick before his appointment. “It’s the new coaches coming, they think they’ve found the last Coca-Cola in the desert, that is to say, I don’t understand the football that has been invented for many, many years.

“I’m at a club to win, and with my experience I want to help. As always, and some coaches don’t accept and, you know, that’s part of the job.

No love was lost between Ronaldo and Rangnick. A change of manager in the summer, however, failed to alter the direction of travel which sees Ronaldo keen to leave Old Trafford.

Young players and falling standards

“All the leagues in the world, the younger ones now, it’s not the same as my generation.”

In the happy weeks since Ronaldo’s return in August 2021, a common consensus has decreed that he would become the ideal role model for United’s young forwards to thrive alongside.

Bad. Around twelve months later, Ronaldo expressed his apparent disappointment with the attitude of the youngsters. No one was criticized by name but asked to choose players around the world he looked up to, praise only went to Diogo Dalot, Lisandro Martinez and Casemiro when they narrowed the question down to his teammates.

In a wider discussion of young players following his example, he added: “They don’t care. Some, yes. But most of them don’t. They will not have longevity in their career. It’s impossible.”

“Their hunger (is different). They have things easier, everything is easy, they don’t suffer and they don’t care.

A penny for the thoughts of Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho…

Critical former teammates

“I still think jealousy is part of it…It’s hard when you’re a little depressed to listen to this criticism.”

They were once Ronaldo’s teammates, but friendships with Wayne Rooney and Gary Neville seem to be over. The shots aimed in their direction had been widely documented and even taking Morgan’s baiting into account, it was clear that the criticism aimed at Ronaldo had been stinging.

Ronaldo says it’s only been six months since Rooney came to his house, but those invitations are unlikely to return. “I really don’t understand people like that,” he said. “Or if they want to be on the cover of a newspaper or the news, or if they want new jobs or whatever.”

Neville laughed off the tale but Ronaldo seems reluctant to rebuild bridges with teammates who helped him win a maiden Champions League title in 2008.

“I care about the people who love me,” he said. “I don’t waste time on people who don’t like me. It’s a waste of time, these people are not interesting in my life.

Curiously, Ronaldo has reserved praise for Ruud van Nistelrooy alongside Roy Keane and Rio Ferdinand, despite a strained relationship with the former Dutch and United striker.

Angel ‘in Heaven’

“His ashes are with me, like my dad, they are here in the house…It’s something I want to keep for the rest of my life.”

Ronaldo’s motivation for an interview with Morgan was to settle scores, but there was still time to detail one of the toughest periods of his life. Her partner was expecting twins in April but their son, Angel, did not survive the birth. Ronaldo says he received condolences from the world of football, as well as a letter from the royal family. “I never expect that,” he said. “Never.”

Ronaldo has admitted that his son’s ashes are kept alongside those of his father, Jose, who died in 2005.

“I have a small church,” he explained. “Yes, chapel. And I keep my dad and my son (over there). I talk to them every time and they are by my side. You know, they helped me to be a better man, to be a better person, to be a better father. I’m really proud of the message they send to me, especially my son.

Expect Ronaldo to address his baby daughter Bella’s health scare – and United’s handling of her absence during pre-season – when the second part of the interview airs. There’s still some distance to go in this one.

(Top photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images)

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