It became clear as Erling Haaland, Phil Foden and Manchester City wiped the floor with Manchester United at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, despite the phenomenal football from one side and the significant bump down to earth for the other, that Cristiano Ronaldo would once again be the story.
The Sky Sports cameras were drawn to the striker’s frustrated, gloomy face and folded arms as he sat and remained on the United bench. Transfer rumours have taken the path of least resistance since with United now reportedly willing to see the back of him in January.
The buzzwords in the wake of the snub have been ‘respect’ and its antonym. Manager Erik ten Hag claimed he had left Ronaldo on the bench “out of respect for his big career”, but both Roy Keane and Graeme Souness believe the goalscorer has been shown the opposite through not being allowed to leave the club and then left on the sidelines.
But while they argue over whether the club and manager have been respectful to Ronaldo or not, those pundits appear to have forgotten a golden rule they have no doubt repeated like a mantra in the past – ‘No player is bigger than the club’.
‘This is Manchester United!’ is as close to a catchphrase as Keane will ever come, so why is it that he has so willingly brushed Ronaldo’s summer misdemeanors under the carpet? Respect is a two-way street and Ronaldo has shown Manchester United – a club he owes an awful lot to – very little of it.
Ronaldo announced his desire to leave the club a month before the season started, well after the United bosses and manager had agreed on a transfer rebuild which did not include replacing arguably the greatest striker that has ever lived and their top goalscorer of the previous season.
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Respect would have been telling United he wanted to leave at the end of last term, when they could discuss it as an option and plan for the future. Had that happened, Ronaldo may no longer be at the club.
Instead, he waited until he was due back for preseason, at which point he realised that no club would want him unless United ripped up his contract. As his teammates went on tour and trained under their new manager, Ronaldo stayed away, digging his heels in, proving how difficult he could be in an attempt force United’s hand.
Respect would have been accepting that he had put his club in an impossible situation, knuckling down and returning for preseason training and games, for which he was being payed an inordinate amount of money. Had that happened, Ronaldo may now be playing and scoring goals rather than watching from the bench.
For the first time in Premier League history, we may now be in a situation where a player is in fact bigger than the club, even when that club is the biggest. There are a lot of Manchester United fans but just as many, if not more, Cristiano Ronaldo fans, and even those that actively disklike him are fascinated by what he’ll do next.
Almost certainly, he will score a few more goals then leave. But had Ronaldo shown the respect to Manchester United that his fans are so desperate for the club to show him, he would have scored more by now, either for Manchester United or another club who would instead currently be enduring the circus that follows him.