By now you’ve likely heard about, and possibly seen spicy quotes from, Cristiano Ronaldo’s sit-down interview with great big English turd-man Piers Morgan. If not, here you go:
Before I get to any of the specific stuff Ronaldo says in the video, I would like to call your attention to the sly, slight smirk he cannot quite keep off his face when Morgan opens with “Why are you doing this interview?” It is the precise look of a man who knows that everybody in the world knows the answer to the question—Because I am hoping to make my situation with Manchester United completely untenable, so that the people who until now have been in no hurry to get rid of me will move heaven and earth to get me the hell off of their soccer club before Feb. 1—but also knows that the conventions of the genre forbid saying that.
In brief, some of Ronaldo’s most inflammatory claims are:
- United is a third-rate organization that hasn’t modernized itself since he left it 13 years ago. This one, for what it’s worth, is very easy to believe.
- Coach Erik Ten Hag (for whom Ronaldo professes no respect) and United’s top executive honchos have betrayed him, by trying to force him out of the club. This one is maybe a little bit hard to square with Ronaldo’s much-reported desire, going back to the summer, to leave for a Champions League side, as well as with the United brass’s much-reported refusal to let him go.
- The Glazers, who own Manchester United, do not care about it as a professional sports project, but only as a “marketing club.” This one also is very easy to believe. An irony that Ronaldo perhaps misses is that his presence on the club is perhaps the starkest evidence in support of this claim.
- Young players, and by implication his young teammates, some of whom notably are playing ahead of him in United’s squad, are a bunch of soft pampered babies who are not willing to sacrifice for glory or whatever. And, perhaps most appallingly,
- He likes Piers Morgan.
Some of Ronaldo’s complaints, specifically about United being a clown organization and the Glazers being shit-for-brains check-cashing nitwits, seem pretty credible. The stuff about younger players being soft chumps just kind of seems like old-guy grumbling. And if he truly likes Piers Morgan then he is a sicker fucking weirdo than I can bear to imagine. And in general I am very much a fan of professional athletes airing their grievances publicly, though ideally not via a dumpster rat like Piers Morgan. It’s just, hoo buddy, from here those bridges look like straight-up fucking ash now.
Ronaldo’s discontent has not been a secret. The 37-year-old (reportedly) has wanted out of Manchester United pretty much ever since it became clear the club would not compete in this season’s Champions League. In the summer transfer window his gargantuan salary and diminished abilities (again, reportedly) turned off every possible suitor save one, a Saudi Arabian club that (reportedly) offered him something on the order of a quarter billion euro for two years. (He declined.)
Meanwhile, back in England, new United boss Erik Ten Hag hasn’t had a whole lot of use for Ronaldo on the field: Leaving aside any concerns about his attitude, Ronaldo just doesn’t have energy or enthusiasm for the all-action counter-pressing style Ten Hag wants his team playing, needs constant service now that he can’t create scoring chances for himself, and doesn’t offer enough goals to offset that. United this season has been far better when he’s on the bench, which he has been quite a lot, due to all of the above. All of this combines to make Ronaldo something like an unwanted grand piano: Too huge to sell—but also too huge to keep, move with, or ignore.
For basketball fans, this might remind you a bit of Russell Westbrook’s situation with the Los Angeles Lakers: a mega-star whose skills have eroded while his paycheck and pride have remained the same, and a team that might happily send him along to someplace else if only anybody wanted him. One key difference is that while the NBA’s salary cap and player-movement restrictions make it all but literally impossible for the Lakers to part with Westbrook, United could, at least in theory, avail itself of any number of means for getting rid of Ronaldo. Another key difference is that, due to those same NBA rules, the Lakers are hamstrung in any effort to fill Westbrook’s role with better players while his salary remains on their books, and so have very little practical choice but to use him in the meantime; United, by contrast, has a healthy assortment of useful forwards to choose from while Ronaldo collects dust.
And, in fairness to Ronaldo, a third key difference is that for all his diminishment he remains a much better and more useful player in certain situations and configurations than Westbrook is in any. So while I’m sure United happily would bid him farewell in exchange for a transfer fee that offset some of the value of selling Cristiano Ronaldo jerseys to people who refuse to see what a bozo he has become in his dotage, in the absence of that they’ve (mostly) been OK with keeping him around. To extend the earlier analogy a little bit, while you’re waiting for the right truck-having piano-wanter to come calling, you can still plink out “Heart and Soul” on your unwanted piano every once in a while, when the mood strikes. (I guess Europa League is the mood.)
That is, unless the piano, uh, refuses to work! Or decides to make itself a gigantic pain in the ass or goes on TV to talk shit about you! This I guess is where the analogy breaks down a little bit. The first signs of Ronaldo’s revolt may have been his visibly shitty ‘tude toward teammates when they didn’t get him the ball, or dared to take shots of their own, or when the team didn’t win—but that dates at least as far back as last season, and in any case didn’t get him a relocation. So he escalated: Back in July, with the transfer window still open, after Ten Hag substituted him off at halftime of a friendly against Rayo Vallecano, Ronaldo left the stadium early and was photographed in the parking lot while the game was still going on. This was disrespectful and shitty, and got a lot of attention, but if he’d hoped it’d get him run out of town, it didn’t work.
In October he struck again. This time Ronaldo straight-up refused to come on as a substitute for United against Tottenham, then left the pitch in the 89th minute, got dressed, and left the stadium before the rest of the team had made its way to the locker room. This was a big scandal! It earned Ronaldo a suspension and temporary banishment from training, but, evidently, moved him no closer to an exit. In fact it led to kind of a big show of reconciliation: He got a Europa League start, and even got to wear the captain’s armband for a Premier League match against Aston Villa. Truly a fate worse than death. It appears to have meant war.
The World Cup break is here. Ronaldo is off with the Portugal national team, for whom the legend almost certainly will start for however long A Seleção remain in the tournament, which will end on Dec. 18. Then the transfer window opens in January. This is a big opportunity for Ronaldo—probably the last one if he doesn’t want to play out the rest of one of his last professional seasons with Manchester United—to set off a huge stinkbomb and give United’s brass no choice but to chase him off with a broom. It is the act of a(n oaf with an ego the size of Greenland, but also a) desperate man. If it doesn’t finally and for all time alienate the people he needs alienated, that pretty much leaves him with only the nuclear option: Taking a big smelly crap in Ten Hag’s coffee mug.