Would Cristiano Ronaldo’s ego permit him to down tools and stop scoring goals for Manchester United?
It is one of the questions Erik ten Hag may be chewing on during his drive to work this week. Ronaldo’s desire to move to a Champions League club is one spat the manager can certainly do without, but it is also one he has to resolve to his satisfaction.
If he wants Ronaldo to stay and the player leaves, the manager appears weak. If he lays down the law and ends up with Ronaldo simply going through the motions that is a disaster for United.
Cristiano Ronaldo wishes to leave Manchester United to play in the Champions League
Whatever his flaws, Ronaldo is still the club’s best goalscorer. Even if Ten Hag revitalises Marcus Rashford, he is not going to develop Ronaldo’s instinct overnight. Ten Hag makes Ronaldo work or he starts at a significant disadvantage. It could be argued he already is with Ronaldo missing the first day of training for ‘family reasons’.
Sooner or later this was always going to happen. The name, Manchester United, is not enough. The best modern players think career and glory, not just money or the shirt. The money is everywhere now. They all pay it.
And Manchester United? They are in the Europa League as much as the Champions League these days. Their last five European campaigns, including this one, split 3-2 in the Europa League’s favour.
Ronaldo has never kicked a ball in UEFA’s second best competition. Heaven knows what he would have made of the Europa Conference League had that happened.
Erik Ten Hag has taken charge of his first week of sessions ahead of Ronaldo’s return
For United, this is a reckoning. They cannot continue down this road of mediocrity, getting by on being Manchester United.
Sponsors won’t desert them but players will. The interest in Darwin Nunez did not last because Liverpool were in and Liverpool are a bigger attraction right now. United can’t compete. Liverpool haven’t missed the Champions League in five seasons, including three appearances in the final. Manchester City are on a run of 11 Champions League campaigns straight. Chelsea have participated in seven out of nine seasons and won the Europa League the last time they missed out. No wonder Ronaldo is thinking he joined the wrong club.
So while this may look like any other squabble between a dissatisfied player and employers wishing him to honour his contract, it is bigger. This cuts to the essence of what United were and what they are now.
Ronaldo never imagined that returning to Old Trafford would see him participating in the Europa League. United never anticipated that being Manchester United would no longer be enough to satisfy him.
Ten Hag is caught in the middle. We wish him well making this right, but he has to make it right or start with a heavy defeat.
Ronaldo remains United’s best goalscorer in a team that failed to reach the Champions League
Women’s game needs to move past false narratives of woe
For some reason, women’s sport, like reality television, still feels the need to create a back story to pique interest. It is not enough for women to play sport, or be good at sport; to get mass attention there must always be a tale of struggle or hardship, even when none exists.
This week, in the build-up to the European Championship, England and Chelsea defender Jess Carter was interviewed. She is black and gay. ‘If I’d had a role model that looked like me, from a background like mine, playing elite football, it would have driven me even more,’ she said.
Hope Powell. What about Hope Powell? Carter is 24. So, until August 2013 — when she was approaching her 16th birthday — England’s women’s team, the elite pinnacle of the game, was coached by a black, gay woman.
Powell is a CBE, she is in English football’s Hall of Fame, she was making headlines from the age of 11 when FA rules prevented her representing her school beyond the primary years. She went on to play 66 games for England before becoming national coach for 15 years. There is no bigger role model in English football than Powell.
Yet that does not suit the narrative, which is an absence of stimulation and encouragement. Women’s football needs to move beyond this. It is out there now: it needs to shed the past, and just go.
Hope Powell played 66 games for England and later took charge of the Lionesses (above)
Losing Gordon to Spurs would enrage Toffees
Of course, the greatest sympathy at Everton should be reserved for those workers at the Finch Farm training ground who received emails asking for voluntary redundancy applications. As always, if there aren’t enough volunteers, compulsory redundancies will follow. And it won’t stop at the training ground, either.
Yet we all know this alone won’t balance the books. It’s why Everton sold Richarlison to Tottenham, and why Antonio Conte is coming back for Anthony Gordon.
Everton have always been a selling club, including young talent. Wayne Rooney was 18 when he left for Manchester United, but the fee involved was substantial and allowed Everton to rebuild in other areas. A year later, they finished fourth.
The figure being discussed for Gordon is between £10million and £30m. That feels very different. If fans are upset by the departure of Richarlison, losing 21-year-old Gordon — the one bright spark in an otherwise dismal season — would spark fury. The club cannot let it happen. If further sales are still needed, anyone but him.
Everton cannot afford to let promising young prospect Anthony Gordon leave the club
Verstappen should have led like Lewis
No doubt there are fluent speakers of Brazilian Portuguese willing to explain what has been lost in translation about Nelson Piquet’s latest comments on Lewis Hamilton. Referring to him as neguinho again, he said that when Hamilton lost the title to Nico Rosberg he ‘was probably being f***ed in the a*** more than usual’.
Perhaps in Brazilian Portuguese homophobic slurs are another term of endearment, like referring to a person by his skin colour. Maybe Max Verstappen would care to revisit the relaxed, not at all racist Piquet he knows, too; or maybe those three Brazilian MPs who have reported Piquet for a race crime just don’t understand their own language.
Meanwhile, when Verstappen was booed at Silverstone, Hamilton stepped in with a message for his tormentors. ‘I think we’re better than that,’ he said. ‘We don’t need to do booing.’ For those still wondering how Verstappen was meant to tread his way through a conflict between his girlfriend’s father and Hamilton: just like that. You show bravery, come down on the side of what’s right, and do that.
Max Verstappen was criticised in the past week for his defence of Nelson Piquet
Who needs Beeb’s Euro show?
The BBC securing a highlights package for the Champions League has been compared to the halcyon days of Sportsnight. Yet when Sportsnight showed Liverpool’s European games in its heyday, it was the only way they could be seen. Football was consumed differently in those days, and it was scarce.
There is a 1973 episode of the sitcom Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? which centres on Terry and Bob trying to go the day without finding out the score of an England match that afternoon, because the highlights were on later. Everyone watching would have known the feeling.
Imagine that now? We can’t. Even England’s meetings with San Marino are broadcast live and given the full treatment. The BBC no doubt believes it has another Match of the Day — but most of the highlights it shows on Saturday night are also new to the audience.
That isn’t true of the Champions League. It’s all been out there, available in full, with expert analysis, shown at home or in pubs around the country. Free-to-air football is great in straitened times, but this isn’t Sportsnight.
BBC’s capture of the Champions League highlights will not help recapture old memories
No return for LIV rebels
It is utterly disingenuous of the Saudi golf rebels to pretend they care about the European Tour, or were not warned of the consequences of the breakaway. And as the row grows more bitter, the chance of long-term division increases.
Previously, it might be hoped that the contribution of men such as Lee Westwood to the Ryder Cup would override a financial decision made late in their careers. Yet as the rancour grows, that might not be the case.
If this ends in the ruination of golf, it is hard to see how the rebels will be forgiven. Let’s hope the cheque was worth it, gentlemen.
Lee Westwood is among the players to have joined the controversial new LIV Golf series
Contrary to Gary Neville’s claim, Mo Salah did not ‘play’ anyone to earn his new deal with Liverpool. He just negotiated from a position of strength, given his form and the recent loss of Sadio Mane to Bayern Munich. Liverpool paid what he was worth, to them. That’s a fair exchange, and no robbery.
No excuses for clubs without AFCON plan
So here we go again. The Africa Cup of Nations will be played across January and February in 2024, after a decision was made to switch from the summer.
Ivory Coast are hosting and June and July fall in the rainy season. It is drier in the north of the country with 45 inches of precipitation in the north-east, 60 inches in the north-west, but the south has multiple rainy seasons and heavier downpours.
It is not rain as we know it. Abidjan, the capital, sees 75 inches of rainfall per year. By comparison, the United Kingdom averages 33 inches, including snowfall. That is why AFCON traditionally took place in our winter. And it did not matter, until European clubs discovered Africans were good at football.
Now we can expect another deluge: of moans and specious arguments as the best African players leave for a tournament that pre-dates the European Championship and was, for many years, the only international football African players were offered.
But either much of the continent is excluded from hosting, or we learn to live with it. And it’s in 2024 — so 18 months to make contingency plans. Any club caught without an umbrella isn’t thinking smart.
Premier League teams have no excuse in not planning ahead for African players departing to compete in the Africa Cup of Nations during a campaign
Footage of two gentlemen crumbling a substance unknown into their Pimm’s at Wimbledon last week might be what happens if your Glastonbury bleeds into your LCD Soundsystem at the O2 Academy and then into your Centre Court debenture tickets. As a tip, mind, if the British player ranked 327 in the world gets knocked out in the first round and you burst into tears, you might want to slow down a bit.
With all accommodation sold, it’s £350 a night for a tent at Al Khor in Qatar, 40 minutes outside Doha, for the duration of the World Cup. FIFA and their acolytes should be made to stay there. The tournament would never be awarded to a host like this again.
Centre slot wouldn’t have saved Boulter
We will never know if Katie Boulter’s Wimbledon would have turned out differently had she played on Centre Court on Saturday — but we can have a good guess.
The fact she was in the third round of a Grand Slam for the first time in her career, and on the rebound from injury and family bereavement, suggests she was at the limit of her capabilities.
Centre Court is a special place but it is unlikely to overcome a very apparent gulf in class between Boulter and Harmony Tan, conqueror of Serena Williams earlier in the week.
Losing 6-1, 6-1 in 51 minutes, little about Boulter’s performance suggested Centre Court would have been anything but a patriotic indulgence. This is an international tennis tournament. It’s not just about us.
Katie Boulter struggled throughout her Wimbledon loss to Harmony Tan in the ladies’ singles
MPs so shameless
Given that the Government have divined there may be votes in regulating football and shouting about transgender issues in women’s sport, expect to hear a lot more from them on these topics.
But before becoming too enthusiastic about their engagement consider this. There are 56 MPs reportedly facing allegations of sexual misconduct. Not all Conservative, of course, but still one in eight male MPs. Imagine if football club owners had a similar record? Then, they would most certainly require regulating, if not caging.
Wigan owner Talal Al Hammad paid the wages late for the second month running. First time, he blamed the Queen’s Jubilee. Now there are issues with foreign banks, apparently. Alarm bells should be ringing at the EFL, who sanctioned his ownership. But we all know whose fault it really is. The Premier League.
If sacked Yorkshire coach Andrew Gale is right in saying the ECB did not even take time to interview him during their investigation into racism at the county, then it is indeed a kangaroo court in operation. Gale, who has lost his livelihood over the allegations, says he will refuse to attend any disciplinary hearing and, whether you believe his side or not, with a process as flawed as this, it is hard not to have sympathy.
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Cristiano Ronaldo future leaves new Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag with a big call to make
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