So here we were, peering into Cristiano Ronaldo’s home and listening to ‘the truth’, the interview he had promised he would give back in August but has now only just emerged.
It had been so long since Ronaldo threatened to go public – August 16, to be exact – that officials at Manchester United thought they might have gotten away with it.
No such luck. Here was Ronaldo wearing a crisp white t-shirt under a black blazer, being lightly pressed by Piers Morgan. Ronaldo began the interview by telling us that he’d chosen to do the interview because it was time to say something and because he liked Morgan.
It certainly set the tone for a 90-minute chat where plenty of contradictions went uncontested by the host, who was simply happy to be holding court with a man of Ronaldo’s stature. This is the interview everyone wanted to get, he said, but this was barely an interview at all when it came to football.
There were moments of deep emotion when Ronaldo talked about his family, about the tragic death of his baby son during childbirth, and about the fears he had when Bella, the twin girl that survived, suffered from bronchitis in the summer. On that level, it is impossible not to sympathise with Ronaldo and the year he has had off the pitch.
But when it came to his time at United over the last few months, a lot of the points he made just didn’t add up.
On Tuesday night we heard Ronaldo tell us how he wanted to “lead by example” and lament that his teammates lacked his professionalism and dedication and rarely turned to him for advice. On Wednesday he explained that he was too good to be a substitute if it meant only playing three minutes. Some example.
It can’t be a surprise to Ronaldo that his teammates are turning away from him and don’t expect him to return to the club. That was just one of many discrepancies that emanated from Ronaldo’s version of the truth, but none of them were picked up on by the compliant Morgan, a self-confessed Ronaldo superfan and a social media sycophant to the 37-year-old.
The shame of Ronaldo’s decision to finally go public is that he made some valid points. The club have stagnated since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, they have made poor decisions in the recruitment of players and managers and taken too long to upgrade facilities. The blame for that lies at the door of the Glazers and Ronaldo did take aim at their ownership.
The problem is it was all too transparent. Let’s not forget Ronaldo was at the club in his first spell when the Glazers were in charge. He saw the same problems last year. He could have made these points last season, through the media or on social media, and they would have carried tremendous weight. They could even have been terminal for the Glazers at that point.
Instead, they will get lost in Ronaldo turning the fire on his club and his manager, Erik ten Hag. He criticised the Glazers because he knew it was good PR. To believe he truly holds those views requires a leap of faith.
The club Ronaldo walked into last summer was a mess, in a false position under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and about to implode. Ronaldo said nothing.
You won’t find a match-going regular at Old Trafford who doesn’t think Ten Hag has turned a listing ship around. Apart from Ronaldo, that is. The timing of this interview doesn’t come at a point when the club are at a low ebb, but when Ronaldo is at a low ebb, and that is a crucial difference.
On Wednesday he was asked about refusing to come on against Tottenham and twice leaving the stadium early this season, against Rayo Vallecano (when some of his teammates also left) and against Spurs. He started by saying he regretted leaving, only to immediately go back on that and suggest he didn’t regret it all.
Then he explained why he refused to come on with United 2-0 up against Tottenham in what has been their best performance under Ten Hag.
“Not allowed for me, a coach to put me in three minutes in a game. Sorry, I’m not that kind of player,” he said. “I like to lead by example,” he had said a few minutes earlier, sat on the same seat, speaking to the same person. There was no attempt to question the irony.
Ronaldo said this was Ten Hag’s attempt to ‘provoke’ him. “Okay, you don’t put me against Manchester City because of respect of your career and you want to put me three minutes against Tottenham. It doesn’t make sense…,” he later said.
United were 6-1 down at City when Ten Hag decided it wouldn’t be fair to use Ronaldo. They were 2-0 up against Spurs and Old Trafford was jubilant. Again, the contradiction was allowed to float away into the ether.
Ronaldo also claimed that being essentially suspended by the club, missing the Chelsea game and training away from the first team, was a “strategy from the club for me to react that way”. The sense within the dressing room after the forward had refused to come on against Tottenham was that he simply had to be punished and that no player can get away with such a blatant breach of discipline.
While Ronaldo paints a picture of these tactics being used by the club to provoke him, or force him out, he also overlooks the fact he was named captain 18 days after his refusal to take to the pitch. No, he wasn’t asked about that either.
One of the most compelling faultlines here is the idea that Ronaldo feels he is being forced out of United, even though his camp leaked stories two days before Ten Hag’s first pre-season training session that he wanted to leave. Obviously, he wasn’t asked about it, and the narrative that it’s the club trying to force him out was the one Morgan was happy to be fed.
Once Ronaldo had made it clear he wanted out in the summer there was an offer for him. The bid from a club in Saudi Arabia was rejected. But the Portugal international insists there was more interest than just that and the decision to stay at Old Trafford was his.
“I have many clubs, not many, a few clubs that they want me to sign and I didn’t go because I feel comfortable here. This is the truth,” he said.
Presumably, he had changed his mind about staying after his camp had initially made it clear he wanted to leave to play in the Champions League. We don’t know, of course, because he wasn’t asked. The idea he stayed because he felt comfortable at the club went against everything he had said about the club’s lack of progress less than an hour earlier.
There was still time to talk about the World Cup and the controversial decision to host it in Qatar. “All the national teams, the people to be welcome in Qatar, and I see, I see a good tournament to be honest. I think Qatar; they are prepared,” he said.
In contrast to Bruno Fernandes’ answer to Sky Sports on Sunday this was bordering on gutless. Many players have felt a responsibility to speak out about human rights issues, about LGBTQ+ issues, but this was vague and unconvincing. He should have been pressed harder, but he wasn’t.
“Your problem is you’re too famous,” Morgan had told Ronaldo halfway through the interview. Oprah Winfrey this was not. This wasn’t an interview, it was a carefully scripted PR stunt and it left more questions than answers.