DOHA (AFP): Cristiano Ronaldo is searching for a new team after a tumultuous few hours at Manchester United, during which they announced the superstar forward was leaving and the club could be sold.
The veteran Portugal forward set the stage for his Old Trafford exit last week with an outspoken interview on TalkTV, in which he said he felt “betrayed” by the club and had no respect for new manager Erik ten Hag.
There was clearly no way back for Ronaldo and United issued a statement on Tuesday confirming they were parting ways with one of the greatest players in their history by “mutual agreement, with immediate effect”.
Ronaldo, currently at the World Cup in Qatar, issued a statement of his own, declaring his love for the club and saying it “feels like the right time” to seek a new challenge.
As well as lashing out against United and Ten Hag, the 37-year-old was scathing about the club’s unpopular US owners in his interview with Piers Morgan.
Ronaldo said the Glazer family, who loaded the club with huge debts when they bought it in 2005, cared more about the money-making potential of United than results.
Hours after the statement confirming Ronaldo was exiting the club, United issued another bulletin saying the Americans were considering selling up.
Former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand, who played alongside Ronaldo at United, said both parties had got what they wanted.
“Cristiano obviously did that interview with the mindset that he wasn’t happy and wanted to get out of the club,” Ferdinand told the BBC. “He made that very clear.
“I think Erik ten Hag got what he wanted in this situation as well. Both parties are happy and we can move on.”
– Future options? –
The problem for Ronaldo is that leading English and European clubs opted against moving for him in the summer transfer window despite his desire to leave Old Trafford.
They will likely be even more wary now, having witnessed his erratic behaviour.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner, who recently scored his 700th club goal, is a fading force yet still commanded a huge reported weekly pay packet at United of around £500,000 ($595,000).
He has reportedly held talks with Bayern Munich and been linked with an emotional return to Sporting Lisbon, where he came through the youth ranks.
Ronaldo said he was offered a two-year deal worth $360 million by a Saudi Arabian club and remains insistent there is interest from Europe’s top clubs.
Should a European side fail to come calling, a move to the United States is a possibility.
The Portugal star made his name in his first spell at Old Trafford, developing from a raw but prodigiously gifted teenager into one of the world’s deadliest forwards.
He won three Premier League titles and the Champions League at United but left in 2009 after six years for Real Madrid, where he became the club’s greatest goalscorer, winning the Champions League four more times.
Ronaldo spent three years at Juventus from 2018 before a sensational return to Manchester last year.
But he joined a club that had long lost its status as top dogs in England and has been trophyless since 2017.
Ronaldo finished third in the Premier League goalscoring charts with 18 goals but has been a peripheral figure this season, scoring just three times in all competitions.
He was recently disciplined for refusing to come on as a substitute as the relationship began to unravel.
The World Cup, where Portugal launch their campaign on Thursday against Ghana, is surely Ronaldo’s last chance to win the trophy and crown a glorious career.
It could also be his final opportunity to show he can still perform at the highest level.
Manchester United owners consider club sale
Manchester United’s owners said Tuesday they were ready to sell the club, potentially bringing down the curtain on an acrimonious 17 years under the Glazer family.
On a tumultuous day for the English giants, it was earlier revealed that star player Cristiano Ronaldo has left the club with “immediate effect.”
Weeks of turbulence appeared to have come to an end when United announced Ronaldo’s contract had been terminated by mutual agreement to bring to an end his second spell at Old Trafford.
That dramatic announcement was eclipsed just hours later by the news the US-based Glazer family could also be on their way out.
“The board will consider all strategic alternatives, including new investment into the club, a sale, or other transactions involving the company,” United said in a statement.
The Glazers have been unpopular with supporters ever since a £790 million ($934 million) leveraged takeover in 2005 burdened the club with huge debts.
Frustration towards the Americans has only grown during a nine-year decline in results on the pitch since Alex Ferguson’s retirement as manager in 2013.
The Red Devils have not won the Premier League title since Ferguson’s final campaign in 2012/2013 and have failed to win any trophy since 2017.
United currently sit fifth in the Premier League, 11 points behind leaders Arsenal.
“We will evaluate all options to ensure that we best serve our fans and that Manchester United maximizes the significant growth opportunities available to the club today and in the future,” added Avram and Joel Glazer, the club’s executive co-chairmen and directors.
The statement also recognised the need for investment in stadium redevelopment.
Old Trafford remains the largest club stadium in England with a capacity of 74,000 but has not had a significant upgrade since 2006.
– Ronaldo departs –
Erik ten Hag is the fifth permanent manager at Old Trafford in the past nine years and his early months in charge have been dominated by debate over Ronaldo’s place in the team.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner had been used sparingly by the former Ajax boss in the Premier League.
Ronaldo reacted with an explosive interview on TalkTV last week in which he said he felt “betrayed” by the club and had no respect for Ten Hag.
The Portugal captain, who is currently competing in his fifth World Cup, also took aim at the Glazers, claiming they “don’t care about the club”.
“Cristiano Ronaldo is to leave Manchester United by mutual agreement, with immediate effect,” United said in an earlier statement.
“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.”
News of the Glazers inviting investment comes just weeks after Liverpool’s American owners, the Fenway Sports Group, indicated they were willing to sell.
Both United and Liverpool were involved in the failed European Super League (ESL) project that sought to create a US-style closed league format for Europe’s elite clubs without the need to qualify or promotion and relegation.
Amid a furious backlash to the ESL, a match between United and Liverpool was abandoned in May 2021 after supporters stormed the pitch at a time when fans were shut out of stadiums due to coronavirus restrictions.
Protests against the Glazers have continued to be common on matchdays at Old Trafford despite huge spending on player transfer fees and wages, including on Ronaldo’s homecoming.
In May, Premier League rivals Chelsea were sold for £2.5 billion ($3 billion), a record for a football club, to another American consortium led by Todd Boehly, with a further investment of £1.75 billion promised on the playing squad and infrastructure.