August 20, 2022

Manchester United’s Instagram welcomed back the players who showed up at Carrington for the first time this pre-season with a video filmed in the entrance hallway of the first team building. There were punches for Bruno Fernandes, Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane among others. Cristiano Ronaldo was conspicuous by his absence.

The player who featured in more social media posts than any other during the last campaign was somewhere else, and his name dominated the comments below. “Where is CR7? one asked, drawing over 1,000 likes. An inevitable sideshow of having a global superstar on the run, perhaps, United’s certainty has fanned the fire over the past year. In January, the official account wrote on Twitter: “Anyone else going through the day saying Siuuuuuu over 100 times?”

United haven’t posted a message about Ronaldo since June 25 – a life in the Twitter universe for someone so invested in his appeal, so anyone wondering why now for the launch of his exit plan might have a alternative and playful answer.

The serious reasons for Ronaldo’s no-show are debated in the industry and more particularly the timing, described by some close to the club as “horrible”. He knew United would not be in the Champions League in April but waited until July to communicate his intentions.

Some wonder if the trigger has been pulled as a deal is now on the table with Chelsea considering signing him. Then there’s the pay cut that all United players have in their contract in case the team doesn’t reach the Champions League. The clause states 25 percent as a general rule.

Others speculate that his worries about the club have eaten away at his psyche over the days since his interview in early June, where he spoke of being ‘very happy’ at United and discussed the prospect of winning trophies under the new manager. Erik ten Hag. Despite being close to signing Tyrell Malacia and Christian Eriksen, United have yet to officially add to a squad that finished sixth last season and lost Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic, Edinson Cavani, Juan Mata and Jesse. Lingard.

In group conversations at Carrington last season, Ronaldo questioned United’s executive leadership and although the club say there is growing empowerment at managerial level, there hasn’t been the push. new faces ready for Ten Hag’s first days on the training grounds.

At various stages last season, Ronaldo privately expressed his exasperation with United’s trajectory and the club’s abilities to correct their trajectory, and informed sources believe the next step in the exit bids would be to go public. He took similar action in January when, in an interview with Sky Sports, he said: “I think to build a good thing sometimes you have to destroy a few things. I remember when I was 18 some older players talked to me and I took it as a need to improve, they know more than me because they have more bad times. This new generation in general does not accept that if you criticize them. I have children that I know. They do the opposite. »

He is now paving his own way to arrange a move to a club that competes in Europe’s elite competition.

He cited family reasons as the cause of his absence on Monday, an explanation given to United before the morning when it was communicated to the world. United have details and accept Ronaldo’s position, and he was also not expected to attend training on Tuesday.

Cristiano Ronaldo missed Manchester United training on Monday (Photo: Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

However, it is not known when he will return. A video has surfaced online allegedly showing Ronaldo driving his Rolls Royce Phantom out of the Portugal national team’s training ground in Lisbon, so if it’s correct he should head back to England first.

Given these circumstances, his place on the plane to Bangkok on Friday for the first leg of United’s pre-season tour is in serious doubt. Many around the club are wondering if he will board that flight and onward to Australia, which would be a major commercial blow for the organizers of friendlies against Liverpool, Crystal Palace, Melbourne City and Aston Villa.

Sponsors will have banked on Ronaldo’s presence and there are usually financial penalties in tour contracts for a club failing to send all key first-team members, although family reasons should be a mitigating factor fair.

There would be a sporting cost, of course. Ten Hag plans to use the time spent in Melbourne and Perth for significant squad preparation and training.

Whether Ronaldo should be part of Ten Hag’s strategy is being debated by the folks at United. Despite all the club’s insistence that he is not for sale, decision-makers suspect this is a good opportunity to sell and recalibrate the attack. There are echoes with Juventus, Ronaldo’s former club. On the eve of the 2021-22 opener, Max Allegri said: “Ronaldo told me he was staying, so let’s get this straight.” The Portuguese striker joined United a few days later.

Whether owner Joel Glazer and managing director Richard Arnold would agree to hand Ronaldo, with all his commercial glamour, to Chelsea is questioned by some sources familiar with their working practices.

Reports emerged last night that Barcelona president Joan Laporta had discussed Ronaldo with the player’s agent Jorge Mendes during a meeting that evening, and instantly the mind wandered to the idea that the deal offered by Frenkie de Jong is greased by the 37-year-old.

United are likely to replace Ronaldo, but the options seem limited. Paulo Dybala, a previous target, is available on a free transfer. Robert Lewandowksi is open to a transfer from Bayern Munich, although Barcelona are advanced on this point. Perhaps if talks begin in earnest with Chelsea, United could inquire about Armando Broja? Jamie Vardy may be 35 but scored 15 Premier League goals last season and is yet to receive a new contract at Leicester City.

The answer is not evident.

Back in Carrington, the players follow the progress but the conversation mainly focuses on other topics, such as the intensity of Ten Hag’s sessions. It is said that many appreciate that a manager is at the center of coaching. His demands are high but welcome.

In the boardroom, transfers are underway, with an announcement for Malacia expected soon. Eriksen’s free transfer is also expected to be completed in the coming days. Lisandro Martinez reiterated his desire to leave Ajax again in a meeting on Monday and United are ideally keen to complete the move before leaving for Thailand, even though Arsenal are battling for the defender’s signature.

De Jong’s pursuit is a little further from its possible completion. It’s not believed a deal will be done in time for lift-off on Friday, but could join later if a breakthrough occurs, with the team traveling to Australia on July 13. Laporta’s claims that De Jong is not for sale were taken with a pinch of salt by those used to talks.

Whether Ronaldo ever takes the pitch alongside any of these proposed teammates is shrouded in mystery.

(Photos: Getty Images; Graphic: Sam Richardson)