Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville hopes Cristiano Ronaldo signs for a Premier League side – but says his next club will know they cannot bench him like Man Utd and Portugal did.
Ronaldo is a free agent after mutually agreeing to terminate his contract with United in November. That followed frustrations over his lack of game time for Erik ten Hag’s side, but he was then subsequently dropped by Portugal boss Fernando Santos at the World Cup for his country’s knock-out games in Qatar.
Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr have made the best offer so far to sign Ronaldo, while reports in the UK press on Thursday linked him with a move to Chelsea.
Neville says wherever Ronaldo ends up, he will need and expect to be playing regularly – but backed the forward to continue to score a high number of goals at the top level, despite now being 37 years old.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt Cristiano needs, wants and has to play,” Neville told the Sky Sports World Cup Podcast.
“Otherwise, he’s not going to be happy and he’s not going to accept it. That means the club that take him will know that’s the case.
“Unless there’s a change of heart or approach, and the club and the player decide to have an honest conversation and say, ‘Come and play for us, but you’re going to be sat on the bench every other week, and you’re going to compete for your place.’ But we’ve seen at the last two teams he’s played in, United and Portugal, that that’s not gone down particularly well for either party.
“I think that pressure of having him on the bench, and how the media is so big, he’s so big with the fans, he’s one of the great players to have ever played the game, that seeing him on the bench is almost like a magnet for trouble for the club he’s playing for, because the focus becomes the player who’s not on the pitch, rather than the players who are playing.
“At that point, you need to make sure it doesn’t become a distraction. That’s where it got to at United and it’s where it got to with Portugal at the end. So, I think it’s got to be a very careful decision made by the club and by Cristiano.
“I hope he finds happiness and a club that will get him into the team and getting him scoring the goals that we know he can score – he’ll score 20 goals in 30 matches wherever he plays, maybe 20 goals in 20 matches, knowing him.
“But how does he see the end of his career playing out? Does he see the end of his career playing out in lesser leagues, or does he see it playing out at one of the major leagues and continuing at that level?
“I hope it’s the latter, and I hope he can find a club in the major leagues, even the Premier League, I’d love him to stay in the Premier League at a club that can have him up front and we can watch him every week because that’s what we want to see, we want to see him playing.”
Could Portugal have played to Ronaldo’s strengths better?
Portugal’s World Cup campaign ended with a 1-0 defeat to Morocco in the quarter-finals, with Ronaldo a second-half substitute, sent on to try to salvage the tie for his country.
He had been taken out of the starting XI for the last-16 game with Switzerland, when his replacement Goncalo Ramos scored a hat-trick and set up another in the 6-1 win.
Ronaldo scored just one goal from five appearances at the tournament – a penalty in their opening group game win over Ghana. But Neville suggested Portugal boss Santos could have adjusted the team’s style if he wanted to get more out of the frontman, highlighting the approach Argentina have taken with World Cup joint-top scorer Lionel Messi.
“Messi has been managed by Argentina in terms of how the rest of the group have come around him, and they completely play to his strengths,” said Neville. “Whereas with Portugal and with Santos having known Cristiano for so long, I thought he’d have done the same.
“It feels to me like something has happened within the tournament that’s meant that plan has changed and Santos has thought ‘I need to leave you out’. But once you leave Cristiano out, it’s not just leaving another player out. It becomes a global story.
“I actually felt sorry for Cristiano in the end, when he was walking down that tunnel in tears. That’s never a good image. You know he’s thinking, ‘this is it, I’m never going to play in this tournament again’.
“I wouldn’t class it as an underachievement from Ronaldo, I’d say it’s an overachievement that he’s doing what he’s doing at the age of 37, it’s just the way it ended with him being out of the team.
“In the end, I thought Portugal were really poor in that last half-hour against Morocco. If you look at how to chase a football match, this was nothing to do with Ronaldo, it was more to do with Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes and the way they played in the game, they were so deep and found themselves having to play impossible passes, or just recycle the ball side to side.
“I was more disappointed with Portugal as a collective than I was with Ronaldo.”
Evra: Ronaldo could retire after end of World Cup dream
Patrice Evra told Sky Sports News the increased criticism Ronaldo is facing and the fact his hopes of winning the World Cup look to have vanished could lead to him announcing his retirement.
There has been plenty of attention on where Ronaldo will play next after leaving United but his former team-mate at Old Trafford says the Portuguese could also call an end to his career.
“I don’t know if Ronaldo will retire because sometimes when you’ve got all those critics, especially at the end of your career, you’re like ‘okay, I think it’s time to stop’.
“Especially, when you’re not starting for your national team because that’s why Cristiano wanted to play and to be fit. To win the World Cup with his country – this was his dream, and now that dream is gone.
“I won’t talk for Cristiano but I wouldn’t be surprised if he retires.”