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Cristiano Ronaldo clears the path into an uncertain future beyond Manchester United – The Warm-Up


Two Sevens Clash

Perhaps this is our fault, or perhaps there are one or two distraction floating around in football. Either way, we hadn’t quite realised that this Cristiano Ronaldo interview was going to be a week-long festival of revelation and bombshell. Yet here we are, after two days of clips and hints, merely halfway through. You weren’t planning on thinking about anything else, were you?


Man Utd players turn on Ronaldo, Mbappe targeted as replacement – Paper Round


To be fair to United’s unhappy No. 7, it’s entirely possible to come up with a highly sympathetic reading of everything we’ve seen so far. Here is a man grieving for a lost child, and who was, he believes, let down by his employers as he navigated that grief; here is a footballer shocked by a club in decline, by the cascade of poor decisions that have marked the years since he was last here. Hard to comment on the first in much depth, since we don’t know what was said and when, but ultimately he’s not going to get much argument with any of the above.
And yet, when it comes to the football, so much of the substance almost begs to be taken with a lorryload of salt. On the pitch, United are looking better than they have at almost any point since Alex Ferguson’s departure; week to week, they’re looking better without Ronaldo than with him. An odd moment to reveal your lack of respect for the coach that has overseen both of those awkward facts.

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.

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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.

And that leads us on to the real question, for Ronaldo as much as for anybody else. Let’s assume that there’s no coming back from “I felt betrayed. I felt that some people don’t want me here, not only this year but last year too. I don’t have respect for [Erik ten Hag] because he doesn’t show respect for me. If you don’t have respect for me, I’m never going to have respect for you.” Not least because Ten Hag’s response to Ronaldo’s last public show of unhappiness, his early flit down the tunnel, was to bring him back as captain. The papers are reporting that Ronaldo’s team mates have given up on him.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

Anyway, enough about referees. Another Welsh-born World Cup adventurer could be found in the Republic of Ireland squad that went to Italia 90. Kevin Sheedy scored against England at that tournament, and he’s been talking to the BBC about his path to the World Cup, to Ireland from Wales via Hereford.

“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.


Ronaldo says he received letter from Royal Family after son’s death

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Ronaldo reveals he was ‘close’ to joining Man City before United return


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