The 2022 Qatar World Cup is being played with a major club football story going on alongside it. The future of Cristiano Ronaldo is the major talking point away from the tournament, and then at it when Portugal take the field.
The 37-year-old netted for his country in the 3-2 win over Ghana to get their campaign underway and he will be desperate to impress European clubs so that they will give him somewhere to play in January.
Ronaldo has been very clear during his messy exit from Manchester United that he wants to continue playing in the Champions League. If that isn’t the case, he may need to settle for a Europa League club, the competition that United are currently in.
Ronaldo has played in the Europa League for Manchester United this season as the Red Devils finished second in a group containing Real Sociedad, Omonia and Sheriff Tiraspol. Finishing second means that United will have to play in the knockout round play-off and have been drawn against Barcelona.
That has led many to wonder whether Ronaldo would be eligible to play in the Europa League should he be unable to find a Champions League club that wants his services in January.
Thanks to a rule change ahead of the 2018/19 season, players can now join another team in the Europa League or Champions League in January and represent that team, despite having represented a different team in the group stage.
It used to be that the player was ‘cup-tied’ and could only be used in the domestic league campaign until the new season came around. This means that theoretically, there is nothing to stop Ronaldo from coming up against Manchester United in the latter stages of the Europa League this season.
Ronaldo is a free agent now after having his Manchester United contract terminated by mutual consent following the explosive Talk TV interview in which he said he does not respect United boss Erik ten Hag.
He wants to play Champions League football but it is beginning to look highly unlikely that any club in the last 16 this season is going to take him. That means he may need to play the long game by joining a Europa League side and trying to help them win the tournament or qualify through their domestic league.
There’s one club that look much more likely to provide that avenue back into the Champions League and that is Sporting CP. The Portuguese side were key in Ronaldo’s development and then sold him to Manchester United back in 2003.
It has always seemed plausible that Ronaldo will end his career at Sporting and they are in the Europa League knockout round play-off. They are only fourth in the Primeira Liga though, meaning domestic qualification for the Champions League looks set to be a battle.
Other than getting a deal done with Sporting, it is very hard to see who could bring Ronaldo in from a financial perspective. Barcelona are likely to stay away from the Real Madrid legend, and he has already been at Juventus.
Speaking last month before the contract termination about the possibility of bringing Ronaldo back to Sporting, head coach Ruben Amorim refused to commit to the idea.
“I’ve been asked this question a thousand times. Ronaldo is a Manchester United player,” Amorim told O Jogo.
“Everyone at Sporting likes him, there’s not much to say. He himself says he wants to do things in peace to follow his future. He will decide his future.
“I won’t be here telling you how things are for me. In the summer it became obvious that things don’t all pass me by. There’s the club, there’s the structure. He’s a Manchester United player.”