Cristiano Ronaldo did not have a happy return to Manchester United, it’s fair to say, with his fairytale return to Old Trafford ending under somewhat of a cloud.
The Portugal legend scored 145 goals in 346 appearances across his two spells at the club although it’s fair to say neither player nor club got the end to the story they envisioned when he re-joined the Red Devils from Juventus in 2021.
So how did Ronaldo’s relationship with Man Utd break down and why did they agree to mutually part ways?
Technically, Ronaldo wasn’t ‘sacked’ by Man Utd, but it certainly wasn’t a happy divorce.
Ronaldo, by doing an unauthorised television interview in which he heavily and very publicly criticised the club, left United with no choice but to part ways. The official line from both was “mutual agreement” and it’s clear that Man Utd no longer wanted him any more than he wanted them due to the perceived disruption he was causing.
Cristiano Ronaldo leaving Man Utd was essentially the culmination of a good relationship that slowly turned sour, which was then ignited by the controversial television interview.
Ronaldo initially did well when he returned to the club for a second spell in the summer of 2021. He scored 24 goals in 38 games for the Red Devils, although his relationship with the club had started to disintegrate behind the scenes.
He was unhappy with the appointment of Ralf Rangnick midway through the season, claiming he did not even acknowledge the German as a coach.
“How the club as Manchester United bring in sports director Rangnick, which is something that nobody understands,” he told Morgan. “This guy is not even a coach. A bigger club like Manchester United bringing in a sports director – it surprised not only me but all the world, you know.
“Of course, in my opinion. We have to be honest, if you’re not even a coach, how are you going to be the boss of Manchester United?”
However, which Rangnick appeared to be an annoyance to Ronaldo, Erik ten Hag was a big problem.
It is clear that Ronaldo and Ten Hag did not get on and they were unwilling to work with each other. Ten Hag used Ronaldo a lot less than his predecessors, and that did not go down well with the 37-year-old.
It got to the point where he refused to come on as a substitute for Manchester United in a 2-0 Premier League win over Tottenham.
Ronaldo’s final appearance for Man Utd came in the 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa, after which Ten Hag publicly described his players as ‘stupid’ for trying to bring him more into the game with long diagonal passes.
He disowned the tactics and Ronaldo was never seen in a Manchester United shirt again. Later, in the television interview with TalkTV, the Portuguese star lifted the lid on their bad relationship.
“I don’t have respect for him because he doesn’t show respect for me,” he said. “If you don’t have respect for me, I’m never gonna have respect for you.”
It would probably be wrong to say that Ronaldo left Man Utd because of Ten Hag, though, because he appeared intent to leave before the Dutchman even arrived at Old Trafford.
Judging by his comments, the continued ownership of the club by the Glazer family was probably the biggest contributing factor to why Ronaldo left Man Utd.
Ronaldo returned to the club he left 12 years before to find Man Utd stagnating in terms of infrastructure and, in his view at least, it was leaving them unable to compete at the very top anymore.
He essentially accused them, as many Man Utd fans have, of only taking money out of the club rather than reinvesting it.
“I thought I would see different things, technology, infrastructure,” he said. “Unfortunately, we see many things I’m used to seeing when I’m 21, 22, 23. It surprised me a lot.
“I think the fans should know the truth. I want the best for the club. This is why I come to Manchester United.
“But you have some things inside that don’t help [us] reach the top level as City, Liverpool and even now Arsenal…a club with this dimension should be top of the tree in my opinion and they are not unfortunately.
“I love Manchester United, I love the fans, they’re always on my side. But if they want to do it different… they have to change many, many things.”
Ultimately, Ronaldo appeared to feel he was unable to affect the club and said he wanted to move onfor a “fresh challenge.”
The short answer is United had no choice – Ronaldo was no longer a positive figure to have around the club and keeping him at Old Trafford until the end of the season would have caused a world of problems for Ten Hag as he attempts to rebuild.