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Cristiano Ronaldo And Kevin Durant Can Choose To Leave, But Not What Comes Next

Cristiano Ronaldo looking pensive in a Manchester United game, in May of 2022.
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

In the aftermath of Kevin Durant asking to be discharged from the bedlam that is the Brooklyn Nets, Cristiano Ronaldo asked himself a logical question. “Have you,” he thought, “or have you not seen nothin’ yet?” And then he answered it.

Ronaldo, one of the greatest footballers of the past, present, and foreseeable future, decided that if America could lose its collective red-white-and-blue shit over a guy who has played with his current team for two years, the rest of the world would absolutely seize up over a similar request from a guy who has played longer than Durant, accomplished significantly more, and just did the same thing with a team that casts a longer shadow than the Brooklyn Nets will from now until Meteor’s Eve.

Ronaldo announced that he wants to be released from the burden that is playing for Manchester United on a Saturday, which is as good a way to lose the news cycle as there is, but the news is plenty monumental, long weekend or not. He and Durant are doing the back end of the player empowerment thing in tandem—opting to get out while the getting is unquestionably better than the staying. Ronaldo also doesn’t have Durant’s fixation for stealing the Fourth of July every three years, but to Ronaldo 1) the Fourth of July actually falls on December 1, and 2) his Fourth of July is just another day lounging in wherever the nine-digit club’s version of Ibiza is located. They won’t tell me where it is, and I respect that decision. I just know it has guards every fifteen feet.

For Ronaldo, the leaving has a purpose, or at least seems to. He wants not to have to play with the dying embers of what used to be Manchester United in the Europa League, which is a glitzier version of MLS but nowhere near the Champions League, where he has made a sizable part of his gargantuan living for the last 17 years. It’s a pride thing, and there are whole countries that do not have Ronaldo’s individual amount of pride in anything. This decision is nakedly about him and his legacy, which sounds pissy but is just a matter of fact. He has earned the right to leave, and Manchester United has earned the right to lose him through its steady deterioration into unfunny comedy.

Durant? He just wants to leave Brooklyn, either because the Nets mistreated his great pal Kyrie Irving or because his great pal Kyrie Irving mistreated Durant’s faith in him and his dream of winning together. It almost makes no difference what it is. Durant asked for this moment and in two years saw that what he asked for and what he got was the difference between a lottery ticket and a steel-capped Doc Martens to the junction as delivered by Justin Tucker in a bad mood. One seems oddly noble, the other decidedly masochistic.

But one must wonder if Ronaldo felt he was hopelessly trapped in the Glazer family’s cyclone of profiteering bungling until Durant showed him the way out. Maybe hearing Durant say to Tsai, “Get me the fuck out of here” inspired Ronaldo to say to the Glazer boys, “Me tire daqui porra.” Maybe he saw Manchester United as Europe’s Brooklyn Nets—which would not be a bad comparison, really, except that United used to be the Los Angeles Lakers while the Nets have largely been Southampton at best and Norwich City at worst.

Of course, in the world of new media, whatever that is this week, Ronaldo is right to do as he has done just as Durant is right to do what he has done, only Ronaldo is spectacularly more right than Durant. Ronaldo didn’t make Manchester United become the monument to falling down a muddy hill with your trousers half-on. Ronaldo didn’t seek out a partnership with whomever the European version of Kyrie Irving is this week. Ronaldo didn’t do to Manchester United what Durant, and to an equal extent Irving as well, chose to do to the Nets. It is tough not to root for Ronaldo to find the Bayern Munich of his dreams, while you might reasonably dream of a world in which Durant ends up in Sacramento and Irving ends up with the Knicks—equally and unequivocally doomed, but safely socially distanced.

Or maybe you look at Durant as the more sympathetic figure—a first-time player/GM whose biggest feat of empowerment was noble in concept but preposterous in execution. Maybe you give him a pass for not being able to foresee a global pandemic, or Irving’s choices in confronting it. Maybe Durant just got a lousy break in his first attempt to be LeBron James Inc. East, and the next attempt will land better.

But whatever Durant’s road ahead, perhaps toward redemption but definitely away from the Gowanus Canal, Ronaldo still looks better, or at minimum his actions look more defensible. He rejoined Manchester United to relive his most glorious years, while Durant left his most glorious years in an attempt to recreate them 2,900 miles away with him as the objet de culte. It’s all legacy shopping by two guys who should be above that sort of thing, because they should have known they were already above that sort of thing—their legacies won’t be tarnished because of what they do now, or did then. 

They already are what they are, and they are just seeking to recreate the circumstances around those glorious days when they became what they are—and circumstances, even for demigods like these, are not in anyone’s control. This would not be the first time that the fantasy of recreating a moment now gone grafts itself onto the dreams of powerful men and undoes them. Cristiano Ronaldo and Kevin Durant are heading out in search of a world in which everything works out perfectly because they say it should, and given how things are working out for them now it’s hard to argue with the decision to look for something else. But in a world in which everything is pretty much Millwall, and getting worse by the day, the idea that they have some say in what’s coming might be the most hilarious miscalculation of them all.