Portugal star at the World Cup: Cristiano Ronaldo like Michael Ballack once did

VIt is very likely that Cristano Ronaldo has never heard of the East German city of Dessau. The local football club plays in the sixth division, Verbandsliga Sachsen-Anhalt. There it goes against Weißenfels and Dölau, not necessarily the collar size of a CR7. Although, who knows. It’s quite possible that Ronaldo shouldn’t be choosy when choosing his future job. In any case, he will no longer play for Manchester United, where he was previously employed.

On Tuesday, the English announced the expected separation. Expected because Ronaldo criticized his former heart club and its executives more harshly than any player had done in a long time. Among other things, he refused to respect coach Erik ten Haag, and he also expressed disrespect for Ralf Rangnick. Officially, they parted by mutual agreement. The brevity of the message, well chilled in tone and garnished with icy words, made the rift between the parties clear.

Now Ronaldo is looking for a job. Where he is going is unclear at this point. In any case, it will not end up in Dessau. The local SV 05 made this unmistakably clear in a public statement. “It doesn’t matter how many goals you’ve scored. Nobody is above the club! You learn that from the Bambini,” wrote the club, giving Ronaldo the cold shoulder.

Ronaldo: “Stop talking about me!”

What does all this have to do with the Portuguese national team, which is currently in Doha, around 6000 kilometers from Dessau? Well, quite a lot. Because Ronaldo also determines the headlines there with his Manchester posse. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t fill the front pages of Portuguese sports newspapers. And that before the start of the World Cup on Thursday against the uncomfortable opponent Ghana (5 p.m. CET in the FAZ live ticker for the World Cup, on ZDF and on MagentaTV).

There would certainly be other issues. Also finds Ronaldo, who urged the press representatives: “Stop asking the other players about me! Stop talking about me! Talk about the tournament and stop asking questions about me! You don’t have to talk about Cristiano anymore! The case is closed!” he said with a vehemence that would have resulted in a hearty “Basta!” from Uli Hoeneß.

Of course, things are not the way Ronaldo would like them to be. Of course, reporters won’t stop asking questions, and of course Ronaldo won’t disappear from the front pages just because of the upcoming job hunt. And certainly not if Portugal botch the start against Ghana. Then no small part of the blame should be dumped on Ronaldo.

In fact, the game will show how much the captain disrupted his team’s preparation for the tournament. Fernando Santos made a conspicuous effort to limit the damage. When the whole world criticized Ronaldo for his statements about Manchester United and accused him of repeated selfishness, the Portugal national coach said: “It’s a very personal interview. That has to be respected.” After all, Ronaldo is “a free person”.

But he is also part of the national team. Ronaldo, his behavior and his constant media presence influenced the working atmosphere there, even if Santos made an effort to refer everything to the realm of fables. “Four or five questions are always about Cristiano at our press conferences. But that has nothing to do with us at all, nothing, zero,” said Santos.

These days there is not always harmony between what the people involved in the Portuguese camp say and what they do. Contrary to Santos’ tales of inner peace, there are pictures showing, for example, an icy greeting at the international meeting between Ronaldo and his now former United team-mate, Bruno Fernandes. Or a scene that the cameras caught during training: Ronaldo spoke urgently to João Cancelo and roughly touched his neck, which Cancelo didn’t appreciate at all.

Ronaldo is still the elephant in the Portuguese quarter, but much is reminiscent of the events surrounding the German selection before the 2010 World Cup, when the young, up-and-coming team tried more and more to emancipate themselves from their former leader Michael Ballack. The situations can also be compared well because Portugal has a group of at least as high a quality as the Germans did back then. Talents such as Rafael Leão, João Felix, Nuno Mendes and Vitinha mix with football professionals in their prime such as Fernandes, Cancelo, Rúben Dias and Danilo Pereira. They are all under contract with big clubs in the best leagues in Europe.

It’s already being said, not just behind closed doors, that Portugal would play better without Ronaldo, who is now avoiding almost every attempt to support the defence. Coach Santos is still holding on to Ronaldo, the country’s idol. He will start against Ghana. What happens after that is far less certain.

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