The English may be missing as Euro 2008 begins in Switzerland today, but the names of Manchester United and Chelsea continue to be heard. On the eve of his team's opening game here against Turkey, Portugal's coach Luiz Felipe Scolari found himself having to deny advising Cristiano Ronaldo to join Real Madrid, as well as refusing to rule out the possibility of becoming Chelsea's next manager. Meanwhile United were making plans to report Real to Fifa next week for what Sir Alex Ferguson has called their "intimidation" in attempting to lure Ronaldo to the Bernabeu.
By the time the tournament is over, Portugal's manager and star player may both regret not sorting out their respective futures before they came here. To the annoyance of the country's media officers, the twin subjects are raised at every conference like yesterday's. Scolari began at the Stade de Geneva yesterday with what sounded almost like a valedictory speech, thanking the Portuguese delegation and coaches and wishing them "all success in the future".
Asked about joining Chelsea, however, he would only say: "What's going to happen to me after the Euro, if I stay or go, concerns me and I'm not going to talk about it now. If I decide to stay or go, I will make a declaration after. I might sign again or I might leave. But I'm going to stay quiet. Euro, Euro, Euro, my life goes around that. I'm going to talk to my family and examine the possibilities, then I will decide. Ronaldo will say the same thing."
The former Brazil coach said he had no worries about Ronaldo's physical or emotional condition, despite the player himself having gone public on Thursday about his desire to join Madrid.
He told Julio Filho, a Madrid-based Brazilian journalist, in quotes published on the Terra website that he "would like to play for Real Madrid but only if it's true they are ready to pay what Manchester United ask of them." Filho – known to Ronaldo from several interviews for Brazilian television – made it clear yesterday that the player understood perfectly what he was saying.
"He wanted it to be published," Filho said. "He wanted it to be released. He knew the significance of what he was saying. What he said is exactly what is published. I don't know for sure if he was speaking with [his agent] Jorge Mendes' approval but I guess so."
Filho was unable to reveal where and for how long he met Ronaldo but he is known to Acaz Fellegger, Scolari's agent. One theory is that Scolari encouraged publication, in order to get the subject dealt with before Portugal's opening game, in Geneva today. If so, the plan was unsuccessful.
United's chief executive David Gill was understood to be apoplectic yesterday about suggestions that Ronaldo's comments represented a negotiating ploy, and it is quite clear that the player is going to have a make a transfer request if he wishes to leave. United warned last month that Real's "totally unacceptable" public attempts to unsettle the player were against all regulations, and the comment from Ramon Calderon, the president, yesterday that "it is an honour to know that a player like him thinks that playing at Real Madrid would be good" has pushed them into making an official complaint to the sport's governing body.
"I never told Cristiano Ronaldo to play for Real Madrid," Scolari said. "And if I had doubts about Ronaldo I wouldn't have selected him. He has been developing really well and I trust him as an athlete and as a human being. He will be the player he was at the last European Championship and the player he is at Manchester United."
At the Champions' League final in Moscow, scoring a fine headed goal and giving Chelsea's Michael Essien a difficult night, Ronaldo went some way to demonstrating that he does not necessarily shrink on the big occasion.
Now it is time to prove it at international level, where his record of 20 goals in 55 games includes only two against teams in the world's top ten. Portugal's golden generation of Luis Figo and the rest ultimately won as little as England's, wasting their best chance as hosts of the last European Championship, when they lost the final to Greece. In qualifying here they were unimpressive, finishing behind Poland and failing to beat any of their main rivals. One of the failings continues to be the lack of a world-class goalscorer and the captain, Nuno Gomes, who will front the attack today, does not come into that category. He too is placing great expectations on Ronaldo of whom he said yesterday: "I think he has the quality to be the man of the tournament."