The much-awaited "decision" Cristiano Ronaldo has promised on his Manchester United future is now unlikely to come before Friday – two days later than promised – but there was an increasing sense within the Portuguese national squad's training camp in Switzerland last night that he might be ready to declare a desire to leave Old Trafford for Real Madrid.
Ronaldo's current propensity for speaking only to Spanish journalists in Switzerland has been a growing source of resentment for the press entourage from his own country, now based 80 miles from Geneva, and his repeated failure to pledge his future to United has also been accompanied by some bizarre behaviour where Real are concerned.
When a Spanish journalist upstaged a press conference last week at the squad's base at Viseu, northern Portugal, by presenting the player with a Real team poster and telling him: "I am here to say one thing: 'We want you with us,'" an employee of the Portuguese Football Federation tried to intervene. Ronaldo waved away the official's protestations and insisted on receiving the poster. "It's a present for me. I want it," he said.
Though Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, insisted in an interview with Sir David Frost broadcast last night that he was "confident, very confident" of keeping the player, there are unsubstantiated reports circulating in Spain that the Real president, Ramon Calderon, is ready to embark on a €100m (£78m) project to bring the player to the Bernabeu – and that this would represent his last offer to Ronaldo. Just as Calderon has not pursued Kaka after the Milan player decided against a move last year, he would not come knocking again.
Ronaldo's pattern of behaviour is becoming more and more predictable: first he makes the right noises about United; then, when only Spanish reporters are listening, he hints that he is ready to be courted by Real. The winger's suggestion at the weekend that he would decide on his future in the the next "two to three days" was the firmest indication yet that there was actually something on which to make up his mind.
The view from Portugal is that Ronaldo has either set his heart on a move, or else he is seeking to renegotiate his current contract at Old Trafford. United have been resolute on the issue that no new deal will be made, though how far the club – or Ferguson – are prepared to be pushed remains to be seen.
Though United rejected the suggestion a week ago that Ronaldo might be reined in, it is hard to conceive that his behaviour has not at least mildly irritated Ferguson and the hero worship which has accompanied him to Switzerland will certainly have done little to dampen the player's soaring self-esteem.
There was a crowd of 12,000 on hand when he ran out to train last night – unprecedented for a Portugal squad – and at least 4,000 seemed to represent his personal fan club, judging by the chants of his name which were ringing out.
It is difficult to predict when the player will next appear in public, since the Portuguese provide less than 24 hours' notice of which player will appear alongside coach Luiz Felipe Scolari at the team's daily Euro 2008 briefings. Friday seems a likely option ahead of Saturday evening's game with Turkey – though Scolari might keep him out of the spotlight.
Ferguson simply told Frost that Real were to blame for the uncertainty. "They've done it with [David] Beckham, they've done it with [Ruud] Van Nistelrooy, they've done it with my fitness coach last summer, they took him away from us, so we're used to it," he said.
"And it's a great... in a way it's a compliment to the standard of players that we have, you know, and we always seem to produce, but I am more than confident Cristiano will be there next year."Reuse content