THURSDAY’S BIG STORIES
Two Sevens Clash
Man Utd players turn on Ronaldo, Mbappe targeted as replacement – Paper Round
8 HOURS AGO
Awkward juxtaposition piles on awkward juxtaposition. Nobody is going to disagree that United are, for the Glazers, a commercial proposition, ultimately run by people who neither love nor get the sport. Well done on the shirt sales and the Instagram followers, by the way. Nobody’s going to rush to defend the appointment of Ralf Rangnick as head coach. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, though, he shapes up. You start to suspect that the test for excellence in football management and club operation runs something like: picks Ronaldo, happily, gladly, respectfully.
Contradictions aren’t necessarily a sign of bad faith. Rather, Ronaldo’s found himself in an unusual position, where “CR7” and “Manchester United’s No. 7” don’t quite map to each other. Celebrity allure and footballing ability track each other pretty closely on the way up, but the former is a lot stickier than the latter. Ronaldo is simultaneously one of the most significant and bankable stars on the planet, and a squad player whose best position is probably on the bench. If his worldview doesn’t quite make total and coherent sense, then hey, nor does his world.
Ultimately, it’s the timing that we’re finding most fascinating. It makes sense in the short term: the week before a World Cup is often a bit of a dry news zone, except for injuries, and it also means that Ronaldo doesn’t have to go into work the next day having called his boss a clown. But after the moment of calm comes the biggest news storm of them all.
The World Cup consumes the entire planet’s football-watching, football-thinking capacity, and that’s when everything comes off smoothly and it isn’t being held in the desert, in the winter, under highly peculiar circumstances. The details of Ronaldo’s complaints are going to begin to fade the moment Qatar kick off against Ecuador; by the time Wales beat Brazil in the final, we’ll be struggling to recall anything beyond the fact of his unhappiness.
‘Everyone always speaks about Ronaldo’ – Joao Mario dismisses Portugal disruption talk
Unless, of course, Portugal have a total nightmare. And Group H is very much built for somebody to have a nightmare: Portugal are in there with Uruguay, South Korea and Ghana, and the runners-up will, in all probability, meet Brazil. We’re already at the “feverishly analysing videos of Portuguese players possibly snubbing one another in the dressing room” stage. Anything other than a convincing win over Ghana next Thursday and things will go critical.
Fast forward to the middle of December. Portugal probably haven’t won the World Cup. Ronaldo possibly hasn’t had much of a tournament. United don’t want him back. Will anybody else be looking to bring him in? Perhaps the executives of all the clubs that are better-run than United saw that interview and thought: yes, here is somebody we would like to bring into our club. Or perhaps, by virtue of being better-run clubs than United, they’ve already got some pretty decent short- and medium-term plans, and nothing about Ronaldo’s extremely public airing of his extremely grubby laundry will tempt them to tear them up.
Even if he does manage to force United into a position where they cancel his contract, or agree to accept nothing by way of a fee, and even if he does trim his wage demands, it’s very hard to imagine a club of the stature Ronaldo clearly desires agreeing to take him on as a footballer, much less the whole CR7 package. Of all the contradictions baked into this whole dispiriting row, perhaps the spiciest is this: the only ‘big club’ that might think about signing Ronaldo right now is the club he’s desperate to leave.
Cristiano Ronaldo (l.) und Bruno Fernandes (r.)
Image credit: Getty Images
Back in the dim and distant past, when the FAs of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland announced that they were putting together a joint bid for Euro 2028, we did some counting on our fingers. And we couldn’t quite work out how the bid would solve the problem of needing at least one stadium in each host country, and probably two in the Republic, while still managing to get anything like the coverage you’d want in England, where most of the big stadiums are.
Well, it turns out the answer to this question is: Yes. Dublin will get two stadiums – the Aviva and Croke Park – while Cardiff, Belfast and Glasgow will each get one. England will then get another nine – two in the north-east, two in the north-west, one in Birmingham, and four in London – for a very grand total of 14.
For comparison, that’s three more than 2020’s (but really 2021’s) multi-national extravaganza ended up using, and four more than Euro 2016 in France. We wish the very best of luck to the poor sap who has to try and make sure every stadium and every country gets enough games to feel properly involved. One solution might be to have only the final at Wembley, on the grounds that having the other big games somewhere else will be much more interesting. But we can’t imagine the FA going for that.
The other exciting news is that one of the stadiums, Everton’s new ground at Bramley-Moore Dock, doesn’t actually exist yet. Everton are scheduled to move in the summer of 2024, so you’d imagine that’s enough time for even the most extravagant of delays to have passed. But it’s hard to find anything positive to say about Everton at the moment, so it’s a nice vote of confidence. You can, of course, add your own joke about which league Everton will be playing in once all this rolls around.
IN OTHER NEWS
Here’s the USA World Cup squad playing a training friendly against some migrant workers in Qatar. Which, setting aside the inevitable conversations about gesture politics and also the inevitable jokes about Christian Pulisic having found his level, must have been pretty incredible for the workers involved.
Some pre-World Cup watching for you now, as James Montague and the people at Tifo dig deep into the historical currents that led to Qatar 2022. Thatcherism, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the first Iraq war: it’s been a bumpy road, slick with oil and blood.
And here’s part two, which starts to dig into Qatar’s history with football and sport more generally. Remember the arguments about Aílton? Almost seems quaint, looking back.
OTHER HAT TIP
Wales are back in the World Cup for the first time since 1958. But Welshmen have been cropping up at the tournament here and there all through that long, long wait. Referee Clive Thomas, for example, denied Brazil a 2-1 win over Sweden in 1978, when he blew the final whistle after a corner kick was taken, but just before Zico headed the ball home. Brazil still qualified, so no big deal. Though they did have to play Argentina in the second round…
“I was playing for Hereford United and I got a letter from the Irish FA to say I’d be selected for a forthcoming game. I knew I was eligible for both Ireland and Wales so I rang the Welsh FA and asked them if I was going to be in their upcoming squad. They gave me the answer that they weren’t in the business of telling people until it was done publicly.”
There are a few World Cup warm-ups happening today – Jordan vs. Spain, Portugal vs. Nigeria – but they don’t seem to be on television, so you’ll have to make do with the Republic of Ireland against Norway.
More Andi Thomas tomorrow. Probably more Ronaldo as well. Such is the way of the world.
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