Manchester United let it be known on Thursday evening that Cristiano Ronaldo would not be with them when they fly to Bangkok on Friday for Erik ten Hag's first game as manager.

Ronaldo has been allowed to remain in Portugal, with United's permission, to deal with an unspecified family matter.

The 37-year-old, it needs to be remembered, lost a son in April, when his partner gave birth to twins, only one of whom survived.

No amount of money or fame can shield an individual from that kind of trauma.

Yet the news came five days after Ronaldo's desire to leave United this summer became public.

And even though he won't be there, that will be narrative that shapes the club's time in Thailand, and then Australia, where they go after Tuesday's match with old rivals Liverpool.

About an hour before Ronaldo's absence from the Thailand trip became known, a source who knows United well told BBC Sport there was "no chance" of the player being on the trip.

The feeling came from a belief that Ronaldo must have a move lined up because, if he hadn't, what erupted over the weekend would have remained under wraps.

Another United source was of the same mind. They too concluded the saga will end with Ronaldo exiting the club he arrived at with such fanfare last August, after they stepped in amid interest from Manchester City, unable to accept one of their most famous players would end up at the club that has taken their mantel as the dominant force in the English game.

For their part, United are adamant Ronaldo is going nowhere, pointing out he has a year remaining on the contract that makes him the highest paid player in the Premier League, and they expect it to be honoured.

Yet the club have to say that in order to protect their asset. They know that in football, players are rarely held to their contracts if they are determined to leave, certainly not players as high profile as Ronaldo. Sometimes the posturing goes on for weeks - as Bayern Munich are doing now with striker Robert Lewandowski - but usually a deal is done and the player gets their wish.

In this instance, the strangeness does not come from Ronaldo's determination to continue to play at the very highest level, more that the situation could have reached a crescendo much earlier. After all, it was obvious United would not qualify for the Champions League long before the season reached its climax.

More pre-season drama for United

United are used to issues such as this dominating their lucrative pre-season trips.

Three years ago, on their last tour, before Covid brought them to an abrupt halt, the build-up was dominated by whether a disgruntled Paul Pogba would come back from the USA in time for the flight to Perth. He did - but then Romelu Lukaku made a public show of his discontent by consigning himself to sessions on the bike to recover from an injury that cleared up once he had left for Inter Milan.

That was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's first tour as United manager. He experienced them as a player, though. Ten Hag is about to discover the fanaticism for the club in the Far East at first hand - and his biggest name will not be there to take some of the glare of attention away.

Instead, when Ten Hag faces the media - probably on Sunday - for the first time since his Old Trafford unveiling, he is going to be peppered with questions he might not have an answer to - namely when or if Ronaldo is going to start training with his team-mates.


Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post