Sir Alex Ferguson was faced last night with the reality of Cristiano Ronaldo's desire to leave Manchester United. The champions' manager must now decide whether to live with the Portuguese winger's unsettling presence in the dressing room next season, or to swallow his pride and sell him.
In what might be viewed as a deliberate attempt to antagonise United and place himself at a point of no return in his struggle to be released, Ronaldo said that he had no concerns about upsetting the club's manager and no idea what he might say to him when – or if – the two meet again.
His decision to push for a move from United to Real Madrid was made before the Champions League final victory over Chelsea in Moscow in May, he said, and – in a declaration which will add untold spice to Luiz Felipe Scolari's impending arrival at Stamford Bridge – he also claimed that the now former Portugal coach had, with his own Chelsea career in mind, expressly encouraged him to leave Old Trafford.
Of Ferguson, the man who brought him to Old Trafford at the age of 17 and who has since moulded him into arguably the world's finest player, Ronaldo had only these words: "I don't know what I have to say to him. I have to say what I want and what I think."
And of the possibility that he might have upset Ferguson, he said: "It is my opinion, that is why I don't mind if people get upset. It is my decision. It is what I want."
Ronaldo denied refusing to take a phone call from the United manager but suggested he had had no time for such a conversation. "I was in a very important competition and we had nothing to say to each other," he said.
If Ronaldo's words were designed to infuriate Ferguson then they will also have irritated and embarrassed Scolari, too. Ronaldo claimed the Brazilian had used his position as Portugal manager to remove a threat to his future Chelsea players. "He took advantage of his change, that opportunity, and other people have to take advantage of opportunities, too," the player said.
Ronaldo, who made his declarations as he made his way out of St Jakob-Park in Basle following Portugal's Euro 2008 defeat to Germany late on Thursday night, set up the intriguing prospect of an encounter with his current employers when he returns to Manchester – possibly this weekend – for treatment to a foot injury. His display in Portugal's 3-2 defeat to the Germans had raised yet more questions about his ability to deliver when the pressure is really on.
"I will be seen by the doctors of United in a couple of days," he said. "I will talk to [the club] first, and then in three or four days I will be operated [on] and then I will start the recuperation to get better soon."
Precisely who will be in Manchester to see Ronaldo is unclear. Ferguson is believed to be in the south of France until next week and the chief executive, David Gill, is also understood to be on holiday. In any case, by the time the player makes it back to Manchester his position will probably have become even clearer. Ronaldo promised a statement – "a note", as he called it – in "two days", which suggests that something may be forthcoming this weekend.
"I am going to say what I want," he said, "but things don't depend only on me, that is why we have to wait."
There has been a suspicion all along that Ronaldo is looking for an improvement on his current £120,000-a-week contract. But his desire to leave the club now seems to be based on a more deep-rooted emotional attachment to Real Madrid.
"It is a dream, a step forward, you can call it what you want," he said. "For me it is a great opportunity, and as Scolari says, that train passes by only once, and we have to take advantage of it. It is a personal thing. It is something I want, something I dream of."
Judging by the way Ferguson dealt with Ruud van Nistelrooy, David Beckham and Roy Keane when he felt they were having a negative effect on the dressing room, it is difficult to see the United manager wanting to keep Ronaldo now. The player's attempts to render himself persona non grata – he has gone about as far as he can without placing a transfer request, which still remains unlikely – even stretched to suggesting that United were short-sighted enough to forget his conduct this summer. "A couple of good goals and people will be happy," he said.
Yet Ferguson is stuck in a double bind. If he keeps the player "rotting" in the stands – or even plays him in the reserve side – he risks creating a problem and maintaining the current intense media scrutiny of his club. This is simply not United's way of doing business. If he releases the player and has done with it, he concedes defeat to Real Madrid and their president, Ramon Calderon, of whom Ferguson's loathing knows no bounds.
United said yesterday that the player would not be sold. "Further to Friday's press speculation about where Cristiano Ronaldo's future lies, the club has moved to reiterate its stance on the matter: United are not listening to offers," the club said in a statement.
United have, however, been set for humiliation, whichever way they deal with the situation, by a player whose sense of self-worth is limitless.
Did he agree he had played indifferently against Germany, Ronaldo was asked.
"I didn't do anything wrong," he replied. "I did what I had to do but the team made mistakes and that is why we lost."
Poundstretcher: Strong euro leads clubs to England
Sterling's crash relative to the euro in recent months has made England a more affordable market for clubs from countries that use the euro. A £60m bid for Cristiano Ronaldo in 2006, last summer or even last October would have cost €86.4m. A £60m bid today would cost €75.6m, a saving of 12.5 per cent, or more than €10m on the same product in eight months. Arsenal's Emmanuel Adebayor, at £20m in October, would have cost €28.8m. Now he would cost €25.2m.
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