Cristiano Ronaldo — winner of five Champions Leagues, five Ballon d’Ors and scorer of a staggering 800+ career goals — now finds himself in uncharted territory.
A free agent since leaving Manchester United last month when his contract was terminated by mutual agreement, he was dropped by Portugal for Tuesday’s World Cup round-of-16 tie against Switzerland, only for replacement Goncalo Ramos to score a hat trick in a 6-1 win.
Coach Fernando Santos claimed the selection was based on “strategy,” rather than Ronaldo’s angry reaction to being substituted in Portugal’s final group game against South Korea, although Santos had previously said of his captain’s outburst: “I didn’t like it. Didn’t like it at all.”
The Portuguese football federation was even moved to deny reports that things had escalated in the camp ahead of Saturday’s quarterfinal against Morocco. “The FPF clarifies that at no time did the captain of the national team, Cristiano Ronaldo, threaten to leave the national team at any stage in Qatar,” it said in a statement. “The level of commitment of Portugal’s most capped international player was once again demonstrated … in the victory against Switzerland.”
But it wouldn’t be the first time that the forward has fallen out with a manager, club or teammate during his record-breaking, but often contentious, 20-year career. Here are some of the high-profile rows Ronaldo has been embroiled in over the course of his two decades at the top.
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Unhappy Ronaldo backs Blatter’s insensitive “slavery” comparison (July 10, 2008)
Ronaldo’s bid to leave Manchester United for Real Madrid that summer reached a new, histrionic high — or low — when Ronaldo echoed comments from then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter that keeping a player at a club against their will was comparable to “modern slavery.” Ronaldo told Portugal’s TV1: “It’s true. I agree with what the president of FIFA said. I know what I want and what I would like. We have to see what happens. I do not know where I will begin next season.” After five successful years at Old Trafford, Ronaldo was ready to move on, but United stood firm and the forward had to wait another season before his desired to move to the Bernabeu was finally fulfilled.
Ronaldo subs himself off mid-game at Old Trafford (Dec. 6, 2008)
Ronaldo abruptly walked off the pitch — and headed straight down the tunnel — midway through Manchester United’s 1-0 win over Sunderland at Old Trafford. The team were left playing with 10 men, as United’s coaching staff rushed to organise an unexpected substitution. Manager Sir Alex Ferguson defended Ronaldo, saying he had received “a kick on the hip” and “there was no need for Cristiano to come to the bench” when he required immediate treatment, but it was clear that the player — who had won his first Ballon d’Or earlier that week — was increasingly willing to act out.
Derby withdrawal sparks bout of Ronaldo head-shaking (May 10, 2009)
Ronaldo’s reaction to another substitution, this time in the heated atmosphere of a Manchester derby, was the latest sign of a growing estrangement between him and the club. He had put United ahead against City with an 18th-minute free kick — the first goal of a 2-0 victory — but when Ferguson opted to replace him with Paul Scholes on the hour, Ronaldo reacted furiously. He spent several minutes shaking his head in frustration on the bench in a very public, visible showing of discontent. That opening goal proved to be his last for the club for 12 years.
No celebrations for “sad” Ronaldo (Sept. 2, 2012)
Three years on from finally getting his desired move to Real Madrid, new signs of dissatisfaction emerged. Ronaldo had scored twice in a 3-0 LaLiga win over Granada, but was he happy? No, he wasn’t. The lack of a goal celebration for either strike raised eyebrows, and his enigmatic postmatch comments set alarm bells ringing. “I’m sad because of a professional issue, and the club know it,” Ronaldo revealed, mysteriously. “That’s why I’m not celebrating my goals, because I’m not happy. The people here know why.” The forward refused to elaborate, and an explanation for his ennui was never forthcoming. Ronaldo subsequently denied that money was the problem, but a bumper new contract which was eventually signed a year later might have helped.
Mournho hits back at ‘know-it-all’ Ronaldo (June 5, 2013)
Ronaldo and manager Jose Mourinho were close when the two first worked together at Real Madrid, but — in a developing trend — their relationship was deteriorating by the end of the 2012-13 season, Mourinho’s last at the Bernabeu. A dressing room bust-up after a Copa del Rey game with Valencia in January was the beginning of the end and by June, after dropping the forward for the last few games of the season, Mourinho was telling TV show Punto Pelota after leaving Los Blancos for a second spell at Chelsea that “Cristiano Ronaldo thinks he knows everything.”
Ronaldo prefers Ancelotti to Benitez (Dec. 11, 2015)
Rafa Benitez was only in charge at Real Madrid for six months after replacing Carlo Ancelotti in June 2015 and getting sacked the following January, but there was still time for his relationship with Ronaldo to come under scrutiny. There was speculation that the player was unhappy with his manager’s tactical approach, and Ronaldo’s fulsome praise for predecessor Ancelotti — calling him an “unbelievable person” and a “fantastic coach” (and, rather endearingly, a “big bear”) who he “wished to work with again” probably didn’t help. Benitez insisted that he and the star were still “adapting to each other” but there wasn’t time for that: a month later, Benitez was gone.
Ronaldo benched ahead of United move (Aug. 22, 2021)
This is not the first World Cup in which Ronaldo’s future has been a notable distraction; just a few days before the 2018 final, his move to Juventus after nine years in Madrid was announced. But, after three years in Turin, Ronaldo was ready to move again. He was left out of the team for the Italian giants’ Serie A opener for the 2021-22 season, a 2-2 draw at Udinese, after reportedly asking not to start the match. Juventus were insistent that the forward would stay, and Ronaldo himself had earlier branded reports linking him with a move back to Real Madrid as “disrespectful.” However, just over a week later, he was on his way back to Manchester United on transfer deadline day having been heavily linked with joining rivals City.
Ronaldo is no fan of three at the back (Jan. 19, 2022)
If we’ve learned anything so far, it’s that Ronaldo isn’t keen on being substituted. Manchester United interim coach Ralf Rangnick found that out when looking to protect the team’s 2-0 lead at Brentford by replacing Ronaldo with Harry Maguire and switching to a back three. Ronaldo wasn’t a fan of the tactical change, throwing his coat to the ground as he departed, before Rangnick had to have a word. The reaction was “normal,” Rangnick said, adding: “I said maybe when you’re a head coach yourself you will hopefully make the same decision.” The coach was proved right: United went on to win 3-1.
‘Nonsense’ reports of Maguire captaincy battle (Feb. 18, 2022)
A month later, Rangnick was called upon to dismiss claims of a rift between Ronaldo and defender Maguire as “absolute nonsense.” The issue at stake was reportedly the United captaincy, with skipper Maguire feeling threatened by Ronaldo’s outsized influence in the dressing room among younger players. Rangnick sought to quash that, saying “I have never spoken with any player about a possible change of captaincy,” and insisting Maguire would continue in his role until the end of the season.
Explosive interview forces Ronaldo’s second Old Trafford exit (Nov. 13, 2022)
After a start to the season that saw Ronaldo’s goals dry up and his first-team place rescinded by new manager Erik ten Hag, Ronaldo’s clear frustration came to a head when on Oct. 21 when he refused to come on as a substitute against Tottenham Hotspur, walked off down the tunnel and left Old Trafford before the final whistle — something he also did during a preseason friendly with Rayo Vallecano. His departure from United last month was finally sealed by a no-holds-barred interview with Piers Morgan. Ronaldo criticised just about everybody at Old Trafford — saying he “didn’t respect” Ten Hag, felt “betrayed” by senior executives, had “never heard of” Rangnick before his arrival and “zero progress” had been made since his first stint at the club. If the comprehensive takedown was designed to make his own position at United untenable, then it was a success, with the club agreeing to a departure by mutual agreement.
Family defends Ronaldo after Portugal axe (Dec. 6, 2022)
You won’t be surprised to hear that Ronaldo being dropped by Portugal coach Fernando Santos for their emphatic 6-1 World Cup win did not go down well with the extended Ronaldo family.
“What a shame not to have been able to enjoy the best player in the world for 90 minutes,” partner Georgina Rodriguez said in a post on Instagram that included a video of the mass of cameras trained on Ronaldo among the substitutes during the national anthems instead of the players lined up on the field. “Let’s hope God and your dear friend Fernando [Santos] work together and make us tremble [with emotion] one last night.”
Meanwhile, sister Elma Aveiro added in her Instagram story: “All that he has done has been forgotten. It’s a shame to humiliate a man who has given so much.”
Despite all of this, you still wouldn’t rule out Ronaldo playing a major role for Portugal at this World Cup. Whatever happens next for him, you get the feeling drama will never be far away.