Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t quite see the irony when he ended his impromptu press conference on Monday with a direct message to the Portuguese media. “You can help if you don’t talk about me,” he said. “If you ask other players about Cristiano Ronaldo, I will get upset. If you want to ask him about the World Cup and the team, I would like you to do it.”
And yet the non-Portuguese journalists who gave a jaw-dropping interview last week are guaranteed to make headlines around the world. It was Ronaldo himself, who incidentally also became a free agent on the eve of his record-breaking fifth World Cup final appearance.
Good luck limiting the Wednesday pre-match press conference ahead of Thursday’s matchup to whether Pepe and Rubén Diaz can form the world’s best centre-back union.
Ronaldo certainly hopes that the decision mutually terminate the contract with Manchester United removed a huge cloud of uncertainty, but football moves fast and, like his on-pitch performance, virtually all of the accompanying debate is now certain to shift to what to do next.
Fair or not, we can now also predict with some certainty where any investigation is likely to begin if Portugal fails to live up to their score among the tournament favorites.
Be that as it may, Fernando Santos’ Portuguese team arrived in Qatar on Friday to deal with the added complication of the inevitable international attention to his captain.
Ronaldo would still be a huge draw even if everything went smoothly with Erik ten Hag, of course, but because he was so honest and public with his grievances, this already huge focus was on things on the pitch. .
All this was then exacerbated by the release of footage showing Ronaldo and his now former Manchester United teammate Bruno Fernandes apparently coldly exchanging views.
Potentially innocent, but still enough to support the suspicion that his teammates wouldn’t appreciate the prospect of being side characters in some soap opera.
The joint statement with Manchester United on Tuesday now seems like a continuation of an attempt to take a hard line on the issue. Ronaldo’s media appearance on Monday was impromptu and included repeated assurances from the Portuguese public that there were no internal divisions or distractions and the 26-man squad was ready.
Like most successful people, one of Ronaldo’s strengths is his ability to share many aspects of his life, and it must be said that on Monday he could hardly have looked happier or less stressed. Portugal has chosen the relatively remote location of Al Shahaniya as their training base. It is 30 km from Doha, next to the camel trail, and apart from their first public performance on Saturday, it mostly attracts a limited amount of media, not to mention fans.
Ronaldo’s argument to journalists was that most of the Portuguese players and staff had known him since the age of 11 and therefore their opinion of him was not shaken by any brief media storm. “The atmosphere is great, no problem, we’re fully focused,” he said, before calling himself “bulletproof and ironclad.” He also called the Fernandez trade light-hearted and expressed sincere confidence in Portugal’s chances. “The tournament will be won by the best generation of players – I believe that this is the best generation – it is a young team of different ages,” he said.
Next month will test that assessment, and while it would be dangerous to underestimate Ronaldo, which of course could become really interesting if Santos follows Ten Hag and concludes that his most famous player is also no longer an automatic starter.