Cristiano Ronaldo’s Manchester United Drama Could Hurt Team Portugal
Cristiano Ronaldo’s release from Manchester United was inevitable, a matter of time after months of divisive conduct between the two sides on and off the field and the star’s bombshell interview with Piers Morgan last week. But the certainty of this falling out is not as important as the timing, as the Premier League spat is certain to affect Portugal in the World Cup.
While every team in the World Cup has its stars, it’s arguable that no single player has had a greater effect on their country’s soccer program in the 21st century than Ronaldo. Since his senior debut at Euro 2004, Portugal has become a mainstay in international tournaments, qualifying for five straight World Cups since.
Though the team has bolstered its roster for this year’s World Cup, much of the program’s offense has run exclusively through Ronaldo for the better part of two decades, and he remains a focal point on the field despite his advanced age.
Off the field, he has surpassed national heroism and now assumes a godly status in his home country, widely regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of the sport. This is the problem — Portugal’s god is distracted.
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In his personal life, Ronaldo has had to endure genuine hardship this year following the death of his newborn son in April. In his interview with Morgan, he said that the loss was the worst moment of his life and that he still has his son’s ashes. It is unclear how this event has impacted Ronaldo in other areas, but it has undoubtedly compounded with other stresses.
On the pitch, Ronaldo has engaged in a year full of drama with Manchester United. The disputes with the same team that kickstarted his career in the late 2000s have intensified over time from premature exits from games and poorly explained benchings to a bombshell interview in which Ronaldo heavily criticized the organization and manager Erik ten Hag. The club announced Tuesday that it was releasing him and that both sides were in mutual agreement.
Some of Ronaldo’s recent struggles appear to be at least partially self-inflicted while others are completely out of his control, but it is an undeniable fact that it is impacting his mindset entering the World Cup. Any negative impact to Ronaldo’s mindset could hurt Portugal immensely.
In an effort to avoid discussing Manchester United, he skipped a World Cup press conference Wednesday. This is a move that could be viewed in a variety of ways, as avoiding the press could be seen as an attempt by Ronaldo to keep the Premier League drama away from the World Cup or a way to inadvertently highlight it by omission. The ambiguity of the situation only further confirms that the player’s conduct this year is an inescapable distraction for a team trying to win a World Cup.
It’s impossible to know if Ronaldo’s issues away from international play will have a tangible impact on Portugal’s World Cup chances. The team is favored against all three of its opponents in the group stage but has only moved beyond the Round of 16 once since 2006, even with Ronaldo at the helm. Recent developments for the captain only serve as another obstacle for now.
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