Original article published 21 October 2022
Manchester United were outstanding in their victory over Tottenham on Wednesday but unfortunately for Erik ten Hag he had to field questions about a stroppy Cristiano Ronaldo, who decided to head for the tunnel before the match was over.
The Portugal international was once again named on the bench for the Red Devils with Marcus Rashford replacing him in the only change from goalless draw with Newcastle United on Sunday.
He watched on as his team-mates beat Tottenham 2-0 with goals from Fred and Bruno Fernandes and, in truth, it could have been much worse for the visitors with Hugo Lloris making a string of very impressive saves.
With a couple of minutes to go and no likely prospect of coming off the bench, Ronaldo stormed off down the tunnel and departed before the game ended.
United, who are 7/4 to end the season in the top four, will now have to try and brush off another distraction just when Ten Hag appears to be getting things right at Old Trafford, with the club confirming in a statement that the 37-year-old will not be part of the squad for this weekend's big clash with Chelsea.
It has been a season of frustration for Ronaldo with Ten Hag making no secret of his preference for other players to start up front.
Only a fool would question Ronaldo's phenomenal record of goalscoring over the years - he and Lionel Messi have almost redefined what greatness is in the sport - and there was much fanfare when he rejoined United last summer.
However, Ten Hag was brought in to change the culture and playing style at Old Trafford and he wants his players to press with intensity from the front.
At 37-years-old, Ronaldo is not going to offer that and although he is still a likely goalscorer if a chance is presented, Ten Hag is choosing to think more about the team as a whole.
Rashford ran and chased down defenders against Tottenham and generally turned in a terrific display full of swagger and confidence. Big summer signing Antony has slotted in very nicely, while Bruno Fernandes looks more at ease with Ronaldo not in the side.
The disappearance of the multiple Ballon d'Or recipient down the tunnel on Wednesday only further highlights the power struggle between him and Ten Hag.
A parting of the ways seems inevitable, but at the minute it is hard to see where he goes.
During the summer, Chelsea owner Todd Boehly expressed his interest in Ronaldo but former boss Thomas Tuchel did not want him and the deal never materialised.
The Chelsea chief took over from Roman Abramovich in the summer and the Blues' transfer strategy was targeted around big name additions with Ronaldo apparently being the main centrepiece.
A London move might be an option for Ronaldo going forward but it's difficult to see head coach Graham Potter being interested in the ageing superstar in January as he looks to secure at least a top-four finish () for the Blues.
No other Premier League clubs are likely to make a move for him so a switch elsewhere in Europe seems on the cards.
Atletico Madrid have been strongly linked with him in the past and the Portugal international could have been the ideal man to plug a gaping gap for them up front.
However, Diego Simeone has quashed those links.
Jose Mourinho has worked extensively with Ronaldo in the past when the marksman was at his absolute best for Real Madrid so Roma, who are to win Serie A this season, could be a possible next destination, while Inter Milan have also seen their name linked with a switch for Ronaldo.
Football romantics may also believe the stories of Ronaldo potentially rejoining Sporting Lisbon, the club where he began his career, but salary demands could scupper such a reunion.
Ronaldo could, of course, stay until the end of the season and leave at the end of his contract, a move that might suit all parties.
Ten Hag could still count on his experience when necessary and Ronaldo would not be forced into a mid-season move and change of scenery.
He would still be a big asset for United this season, as they attempt to get back into the top four and cement their place as one of English football's dominant forces again.
However, Wednesday was an indication of the direction United are moving in as Ten Hag focuses more on togetherness and team spirit in his squad.
Ronaldo may quickly find, therefore, that his days at Old Trafford are numbered.Safer Gambling Week (17-23 October) – Let’s talk about safer gambling. Click here for more information on independent resources. Gamble Responsibly.