Cristiano Ronaldo’s interview to Sky Sports was as timely as it was an eye-opener. To start with, it set the record straight and cleared the misconception that a lot of outsiders, including this correspondent, had become prisoners of. Some agenda-driven negative vibes emanating from the Carrington and Old Trafford dressing rooms contributed to that. Now we know who the real problems at Manchester United are. Now we have an idea about the sources contributing to the dressing-room leaks. An apology is due to the all-time great.
Ronaldo’s interview has exposed the flaky prima donnas—“a bunch of whinge-bags”, according to former club captain Gary Neville—and the kids who don’t like to be taken out of their comfort zone. The 36-year-old superstar hasn’t taken any names, but the fact of the matter is that if the Greenwoods, the Rashfords and the Sanchos, for example, consider Ronaldo a problem, then those players are the problems rather than someone who has 801 career goals yet to his name in top-flight football. This season itself, he has already scored 21 goals in 14 games. Ronaldo has almost singlehandedly kept United in the Champions League. Without his goals, the club yet again would have been relegated to the Europa League.
Ronaldo spoke about the youngsters. “The mature players, the older players, they can always help the young players. But I can give an example. If I give you advice, even if you are younger than me, if you don’t implant that during your daily life, it will be difficult,” he said, adding: “I can speak all day with that person, but if it’s not coming from inside of you, it’s impossible. The individual is the most important thing. We are here to help and if they need my help, and my support and my advice, I will be the No. 1 to help. But if you don’t want my help, do your job, look for yourself, and do your best to help the team.”
He went on: “I remember, when I was 18, 19, 20, some older players spoke with me, but I put that as ‘Cristiano, you have to improve; they know more than you, they are more experienced than you, they passed through many bad moments’. But other people, they don’t accept that, if you criticise them.
“I don’t say this in relation to our players, but in general. I have kids, I know. Sometimes when you are a little bit harder, they do the opposite. So you have to find the right balance to speak with them. But, in my opinion, the main point is that it should come from inside of you.
“You should be proud of yourself and look in the mirror and say, ‘listen, I give everything’. I think all of us should do that, because it’s a new year, we change the page, we have many things to win and we have to believe in that. If not, it will be a nightmare.”
This is a damning indictment of the current dressing-room culture at United, a club that has embraced on-pitch mediocrity since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner, however, thrives on his elite mentality. “Manchester United should win the league or be second or third. I don’t see any other position for Manchester United to be honest. In my heart, I don’t accept that our mentality be less than being in the top three in the Premier League, in my opinion. We are capable to change things now,” he said.
Mind, Ronaldo could have gone to any other club after he decided to call time on his Juventus’ stint. He returned to the club where it all began, because his footballing father, Sir Alex, picked up the phone and called him to return home. Ronaldo came back to help his beloved United win titles. He was reportedly shocked to see the fallen standards. During his first stint at the club, United were a winning machine. They now celebrate a top-four finish in the Premier League. The current season already appears to be a write-off, with United sitting seventh in the table, 22 points adrift of league leaders Manchester City.
Yes, United probably didn’t need Ronaldo and a world-class defensive midfielder could have been the final piece in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s rebuild. But once Ronaldo was brought in, any manager was going to change the system for a proven winner.
With a wing-back like Trent Alexander-Arnold or Kieran Trippier in the team, Ronaldo’s scoring-rate would have risen exponentially. The team has Aaron Wan-Bissaka instead, still struggling to beat the first defender with his crosses.
Ronaldo’s interview offered a throwback to Roy Keane’s infamous MUTV interview in 2005 that spelt the end of the iconic former captain’s time at the club. That United dressing-room was replete with achievers and Sir Alex ruled with an iron fist. That Keane interview never officially saw the light of day, although the details were leaked.
This time, the club hasn’t blocked Ronaldo from airing the interview and interim manager Ralf Rangnick has lauded the player for delivering some home truths.