Ronaldo has been untouchable for Portugal but times are changing

Cristiano Ronaldo has been untouchable in Portugal for years but his shock interview could easily wreck their World Cup… Man United star’s lustre is fading and for all his goals, more and more may believe he’s more hindrance than help

  • Cristiano Ronaldo’s international record for Portugal has been outstanding
  • The 37-year-old forward was poised to lead his country into another World Cup
  • But his bombshell interview about Manchester United has proved a distraction
  • Now there is scrutiny on every Portugal player because of Ronaldo’s actions
  • There were calls from some in the media for Ronaldo to play less for Portugal
  • That clamour will only grow if his interview damages their World Cup chances 
  • Click here for the latest World Cup 2022 news, fixtures, live action and results

Back in September, the respected sports newspaper A Bola printed a front page with the headline: ‘Less Ronaldo, more Portugal.’

They argued that Cristiano wasn’t playing regularly enough for Manchester United to automatically command a starting spot for Portugal and that he was denying other forwards their opportunity.

It felt like a watershed moment. For so many years, Ronaldo had been something akin to an untouchable deity in Portuguese football, his importance to their chances of victory clear and obvious.

Calls for Cristiano Ronaldo to play less for Portugal were growing even before his bombshell interview overshadowed their World Cup build-up – but he remains their most important player

Back in September, the respected Portuguese paper A Bola called for ‘Less Ronaldo, more Portugal’ on its front page that argued he no longer deserved a guaranteed starting place

He was their hero in 2016 when they won the European Championship and had single-handedly dragged them through so many big games at tournaments.

He is the captain, leader and inspiration, with 117 goals in 191 Portugal appearances. How dare he be questioned?

But the situation is changing. Let’s not forget that A Bola’s resistance to Ronaldo being untouchable came before the bombshell he has dropped on the eve of their World Cup campaign.

His dramatic interview with Piers Morgan earlier this week, in which he accused Manchester United of ‘betraying’ him and took aim at the club’s manager and owners, was far from ideal timing.

It’s handy, of course, for Ronaldo because he’s now away from Manchester for at least three weeks and so won’t have to face the consequences of his barbed comments that will likely see his contract torn up.

Ronaldo’s interview with Piers Morgan, in which he accused Manchester United of ‘betraying him’, came at the worst possible time for Portugal

Portugal coach Fernando Santos keeps a close eye on Ronaldo during a training session

But for Portugal it has provided an almighty unwanted distraction as coach Fernando Santos tries to focus minds ahead of the World Cup.

Ronaldo has long been accused of having an enormous ego, of making it all about ‘me, me, me’ and not putting the team first. This is definitely one of those times.

Suddenly, every Portuguese player put up for media duties finds themselves talking about one man rather than the broader ambitions of the team or how playing at the World Cup is a dream come true for them personally.

Every single one of Ronaldo’s actions and interactions on the training ground and in the dressing room will be scrutinised. Even more so than normal.

While the players will doubtless talk up Ronaldo’s importance in the days ahead of Portugal’s first game against Ghana next Thursday, the veneer is wearing thin and irritation at his selfishness is showing through.

Just witness the best efforts of Man United team-mate Bruno Fernandes to avoid interacting with Ronaldo when walking into the Portugal dressing room on Monday and the awkward handshake that followed.

We have seen the frosty handshake between Ronaldo and his Man United colleague Fernandes 

Fernandes didn’t appear to have too much time for Ronaldo as he reported for the World Cup

Then on the training ground, Joao Cancelo apparently didn’t take too kindly to Ronaldo’s attempts to grab his face and give a pep talk.

Danilo Pereira then felt the need to point out Portugal ‘don’t just play for Ronaldo’ but ‘are a team’ in comments on Tuesday – while also making clear everyone would still be trying hard to create plenty of chances for him.

And that’s just it. Ronaldo may have created a nuisance but the rest of the Portugal squad will have to tolerate all the unwanted background noise because he remains their X-factor at this World Cup.

Ronaldo keeps himself in tip-top condition but even he would be pushing it to appear at the 2026 World Cup aged 41. So this is it for him on world football’s biggest stage.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Joao Cancelo were involved in an awkward training ground incident

Even if it has, at times, felt like Ronaldo’s career is one wonderful film script, Portugal will be going some to win this World Cup with the likes of Brazil, France and Argentina to overcome.

Ronaldo, though, will want to go out on a high note and that means a run deep into the knockout rounds having first negotiated a tricky group featuring Ghana, Uruguay and South Korea.

He does retain the ability to win matches all on his own even if such magical moments have been at a premium for United this season.

Portugal have other creative forces such as Fernandes, Rafael Leao, Ruben Neves and Bernardo Silva but everyone will still look to Ronaldo as the match-winner.

So even though his comments to Piers Morgan have cast a shadow over this tournament that didn’t need to be there, Ronaldo’s presence is necessary and will be accepted.

Danilo Pereira has insisted the whole Portugal team doesn’t revolve around just one man

Cristiano Ronaldo’s interview revelations have dominated Portugal’s World Cup build-up

Ronaldo’s importance to Portugal remains clear, as it was during their Euro 2016 triumph

But if Portugal fail in Qatar – for example, failing to get out their group – and Ronaldo flops, it will present an opportunity to move forward without him.

At some point, Portugal will have to find another superstar and it could be the moment for Leao or Joao Felix to emerge, or for a youngster like Goncalo Ramos or Fabio Silva to grab their chance.

Even a game full of missed chances, leading to the usual petulant reactions, will turn more and more onlookers in Portugal against him. Patience could soon wear thin. 

Ronaldo, for his part, has already made clear he wishes to continue until Euro 2024, when he will be touching 40.

That’s if the circus that surrounds him doesn’t become too much of a distraction in the meantime.

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