In the aftermath of Manchester United’s thrilling 2-1 stoppage-time win at Fulham on Sunday, Erik ten Hag allowed himself to reflect on developments at Old Trafford since taking over as manager in the summer.
“We are now united,” he said. “We are together, in the locker room, with the staff, the directors, the whole club and the fans.
“I think we have a base. We are going in the right direction. I think the culture has changed, the attitude, the mentality has changed and that’s good. Today, I think, that’s the symbol of that, when you get the win in the last seconds of the game.”
Around the same time, United staff were told that ‘unity’ did not include everyone.
They didn’t know then – and still don’t know now – the full extent of the attack launched against them by Cristiano Ronaldo. Unless the situation changes, they will have to wait with everyone else to watch Piers Morgan’s TV interview with the player they pay £500,000 a week.
In excerpts from the interview published on Sunday, Ronaldo said he felt ‘betrayed’ by the clubdisrespects manager Ten Hag and is kicked out.
In a new clip on Monday, Ronaldo claimed club directors didn’t believe him when he said he had to miss the start of pre-season training because his daughter and partner were in hospital .
Earlier on Monday, the club said in a statement: “Manchester United take note of the media coverage regarding an interview with Cristiano Ronaldo. The club will review their response once all the facts have been established.”
Ronaldo’s interview will air on Talk TV for two nights on Wednesday and Thursday.
In a sense, however, for Manchester United there is no decision to be made.
After Ronaldo refused to step onto the pitch as a late substitute in the win over Tottenham on October 19, United made it clear behind the scenes that they were backing Ten Hag to deal with the situation. He quickly ruled out the 37-year-old for the following weekend’s game at Chelsea.
It is now known that Ronaldo accepts that his conduct that night was wrong. However, he remains adamant that Ten Hag’s decision was a public display of disrespect.
In a radio interview with Talksport on Monday, Morgan said the move contradicted Ten Hag’s explanation for his failure to bring on Ronaldo in the 6-3 Manchester derby defeat at the Etihad Stadium two and a half weeks earlier. , what he said, under the circumstances, would have been disrespectful.
There was a significant difference in the two games. United trailed 4-0 at half-time in the first. After 80 minutes, the score was 6-1. There was clearly nothing more at stake than limiting the extent of a humiliating defeat. Against Tottenham, they entered the final 10 minutes defending a two-goal lead against a top-four rival after picking up four points from three games. Christian Eriksen was presented with three minutes to play that night, as was youngster Anthony Elanga.
Former United captain Gary Neville was not alone in thinking Ronaldo crossed a line that night and it would be better for all parties if his former team-mate was released immediately.
Ten Hag took a different view.
However, in explaining his stance in an extended press conference two days after the Tottenham game, he said something that gets to the heart of the matter.
“I have to make decisions in the interests of the club and the team above all, that’s my job,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who it is, age or reputation.”
In other words, it doesn’t matter that Ronaldo has won all the honors of the game multiple times, been crowned the Ballon d’Or winner five times and is widely recognized as one of the greatest players of all time. In Ten Hag’s eyes, he’s just another player. And the brutal truth is that this season he hasn’t delivered, either in terms of goals scored or overall contribution.
On Monday, Ronaldo tweeted that he was fully focused on the World Cup with Portugal.
As well as saying they need to establish all the facts behind the interview, which Ronaldo obviously didn’t have permission for, United are keeping their powder dry.
They are privately unhappy with some of Ronaldo’s specific allegations about life behind the scenes at the club, pointing out that the restaurant and menu have been revamped, improvements are being made to the gymnasium and the training ground is different from the one which the Portuguese left in 2009.
There is also dissatisfaction with Ronaldo’s claim that he is being kicked out by ‘executives’ given he was granted compassionate leave and allowed to miss the summer tour of Thailand and in Australia by club figures, even when that decision was questioned by others.
There have been rumors for some time now that Ronaldo – widely seen as ultra-professional – hasn’t been guiding the young players as expected.
There is also no doubt that Ronaldo wanted to leave this summer. United sources are adamant that apart from an offer from Saudi Arabia, no deal has been offered that does not involve them paying a substantial part of his salary.
Against this backdrop, United have to decide what to do next.
It’s impossible to imagine Ronaldo playing under Ten Hag and it’s inconceivable that the United hierarchy could undermine their manager by backing a player.
Ten Hag will have to speak with director of football John Murtough, before general manager Richard Arnold and co-chairman Joel Glazer get involved.
If the above is any guide, patience will be needed for the end result.
It was like that 17 years ago. Back in October 2005, when United were beaten 4-1 in a Premier League game at Middlesbrough. Shortly after that match, captain Roy Keane gave an interview to MUTV so damning to his teammates that it never aired. Eighteen days later after giving this interview, Keane left United by “mutual consent”.
In the age of social media, 18 days feels like a lifetime.
But, no matter how long it takes, it seems certain that Ronaldo will finally get his wish and be allowed to leave. All that needs to be decided is how.
‘I can’t defend Ronaldo’ – reaction
Former Manchester United captain Rio Ferdinand says he can’t defend Ronaldo.
“It was all fabricated for one thing – and that’s for him to leave the club,” he said on his Vibe podcast with Five.
“Until this interview I would defend him but this love affair with Manchester United that Cristiano had is over in my eyes.
“I don’t think there is going back. I don’t think the club will bring him back and I don’t think he wants to come back. Everything is fabricated for this reason.”
Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Monday Night Club, former Blackburn and Chelsea striker Chris Sutton said Ronaldo was “on the decline and he threw his toys out of the pram”.
Sutton said: “Ronaldo can’t play for Ten Hag anymore. He can’t play for Manchester United anymore. It could work very well for Ten Hag. This whole interview was totally useless, it damaged his legacy.
“His advisers must have known the impact this interview would have.”
Former Brighton striker Glenn Murray added: “Manchester United knew when they brought him in that he had a huge ego to go with his quality. It was always going to happen. He was never going to react well to his passing.
“Clearly everyone wants him to leave the club. That’s what he wanted with the interview. It was very complacent. There’s no looking back for him now.”
Andy Mitten, editor of United We Stand magazine, earlier told BBC Radio 5 Live: “He hasn’t been deported. He wanted to leave this summer and thought he was leaving, but there was a shortage of suitors.
“He did an interview which is his version of the truth and there is often more than one version of the truth in life.
“I don’t think United fans would be very concerned if he no longer plays for the club.”