Cristiano Ronaldo bets on the World Cup for the last act

Cristiano Ronaldo bets on the World Cup for the last act

Newslooks – DOHA, Qatar (AP)

Not for the first time, Cristiano Ronaldo trusts himself to deliver on the big stage.

A man of seemingly limitless self-confidence struggles to come to terms with the effects of age and relies on world Cup to launch a glorious final act of his remarkable career.

ARCHIVE – Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates tras annotar un gol para Portugal en el partido contra España en la fase de grupos del Mundial en Sochi, Rusia, el viernes 15 de junio de 2018. (AP Foto/Francisco Seco)

His explosive interview with Piers Morgan this week set the stage for a breakthrough few weeks for the 37-year-old Portuguese striker and left him with little leeway if things went wrong.

Cristiano Ronaldo of the Portugal national football team arrives at Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar on Friday, November 18, 2022 ahead of the upcoming World Cup. Portugal will play the first game of the World Cup against Ghana on November 23. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

It’s quite a bet. But for Ronaldowho wrote his own story in a career laden with trophies, it’s unlikely failure was even contemplated.

He very deliberately made sure the attention was on him in Qatar by waging a public war with Manchester United and putting himself in the market.

The question is whether this is a case of self-confidence or self-delusion.

Cristiano Ronaldo of the Portugal national football team arrives at Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar on Friday, November 18, 2022 ahead of the upcoming World Cup. Portugal will play the first game of the World Cup against Ghana on November 23. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Clearly from his performances on the pitch this season, reality has hit him hard. The burst of speed seems to have disappeared. The energy levels are not the same. And, perhaps most shockingly, that cutting edge just isn’t there.

Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo stands on the pitch during the warm up before the English Premier League soccer match between Aston Villa and Manchester United at Villa Park in Birmingham, England on Sunday November 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira )

Of United’s 21 games this season, Ronaldo was involved in 16 of them and scored just three goals.

Two of those goals were against Moldovan club Sheriff FC in the Europa League, including one from a penalty. The other was a winner against Everton and marked the 700th of his club career.

Cristiano Ronaldo of the Portugal national football team arrives at Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar on Friday, November 18, 2022 ahead of the upcoming World Cup. Portugal will play the first game of the World Cup against Ghana on November 23. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Despite the milestone he reached with that goal in the Premier League, these stats provide little evidence that he’s set to make an emphatic statement at the World Cup. But from hearing him in this interview, it’s clear that Ronaldo feels he’s been underused and misdeployed by United manager Erik ten Hag.

Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo signs a shirt for Giuliana, a Brazil fan, as he arrives with the Portuguese team at Lisbon airport to depart for the World Cup in Qatar, Friday, November 18, 2022. (AP Photo /Armando Franca)

The World Cup is his chance to prove that point, because if he maintains his club form in the tournament, it’s unclear where he will end up next.

Even with 24 goals last season, he couldn’t secure a move to one of Europe’s top clubs and there’s no sign that the situation has changed now. His willingness to call his manager, owners and other players on international television could make it difficult for Ronaldo to attract suitors when the January transfer window opens.

Cristiano Ronaldo posed for a photo with a Brazilian fan identified as Giuliana, at the llegada de la selección portuguesa al aeropuerto de Lisboa para viajar a Qatar, el viernes 18 de noviembre de 2022 (AP Foto / Armando Franca)

Whether a challenge for the Golden Boot as Qatar’s top scorer and a deep run for Portugal would change remains to be seen. But this is surely his only chance to prolong his career in elite football.

Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo holds the captain’s armband during the English Premier League soccer match between Aston Villa and Manchester United at Villa Park in Birmingham, England on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

“Maybe it’s good for Manchester and it’s probably good for me too to have a new chapter,” he told TalkTV.

Cristiano Ronaldo camina in the cancha during a training of the selection of Portugal, el lunes 14 de noviembre de 2022, in Oeiras. (AP Foto/Armando Franca)

The Premier League club responded by saying they had “initiated appropriate action” following his actions. The termination of his contract is a possible outcome.

Even as a free agent, Ronaldo’s reported salary of around 500,000 pounds ($590,000) per week constitutes a considerable obstacle for the other interested clubs. That’s why it’s so important for him to provide proof that he can still deliver at the highest level.

Cristiano Ronaldo smiles as he arrives for a Portugal soccer team training session in Oeiras, near Lisbon, Monday, Nov. 14, 2022. Portugal will face Nigeria on Thursday in a friendly match in Lisbon before surrendering in Qatar on Friday for the World Cup. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

Yet Ronaldo’s off-pitch actions proved more remarkable. Nothing more than that interview with Morgan, where he came across as a grumpy old man blaming just about everyone for his inability to make himself the center of a team – and perhaps a sport – that moves forward without him.

Cristiano Ronaldo walks on the pitch during a Portugal soccer team training in Oeiras, near Lisbon on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022. Portugal will face Nigeria on Thursday in a friendly match in Lisbon before surrendering in Qatar on Friday for the World Cup. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

“It’s the new coaches coming in,” he said. “They think they found the last Coca-Cola in the desert.”

RoManchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo reacts during the Europa League Group E soccer match between Real Sociedad and Manchester United at the Reale Arena in San Sebastian, Spain, Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

This analogy has only given the impression that he – a five-time Ballon d’Or winner who has won five Champions League titles and seven league titles in three different countries – is increasingly an out-of-touch player of the modern game.

Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo claims referee Anthony Taylor during a La Liga Premier de Inglaterra fútbol match, between Aston Villa y Manchester United at Villa Park in Birmingham, Inglaterra, el domingo 6 de noviembre de 2022. (AP Foto/ Rui Viera)

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