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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

IAN HERBERT: There are no tears for Cristiano Ronaldo as Portugal crash out of the World Cup

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IAN HERBERT: The most revealing aspect of Cristiano Ronaldo’s trudge from the pitch was that his team-mates did not bother to console him… this tragic figure has never been more in need of wise, honest friends to tell him how BAD things look

For Cristiano Ronaldo, it was a tournament which opened and closed with tears and, once he had stepped down a tunnel and into history, found precious few being shed for him.

He cried on November 24, when he lined up to play Ghana and the Portuguese anthem first played. He cried on Saturday, while marching straight off the pitch and neglecting to remember the fans who had supported the team through a grim defeat to Morocco.

What we witnessed in the intervening 16 days was a dismantling of the myth and aura surrounding an individual who has considered himself above the national team for so long. A player whose estrangement from his nation was made plain by a meaningless, 200-word Instagram statement he issued last night.

Cristiano Ronaldo walked down the tunnel in tears – but there was nobody crying for him

Carlos Queiroz and Paulo Bento, the two coaches preceding Fernando Santos, who has led Portugal here, were dismissed — in 2010 and 2014 respectively — amid tensions with Ronaldo. For Santos to have publicly rebuked his captain for reacting poorly to his substitution against South Korea, 10 days ago, there really had to have been something seriously questionable in his approach and commitment to this team. ‘I didn’t like it at all. I really didn’t like it at all,’ said Santos.

The players did not spell it out but you really did not need to be a mind-reader to know that they had no blind devotion to CR7 either.

We heard Bruno Fernandes, the de-facto captain, relating the story of Ronaldo’s ill-judged joke about arriving to join up with the squad in his private jet, while the others slummed it on scheduled flights. We heard Bernardo Silva, reflecting tartly on Ronaldo’s removal from the starting XI. ‘We know how to manage when Cristiano is not there,’ he said.

The most revealing aspect of Ronaldo’s trudge from the pitch on Saturday was that the Portuguese players did not bother to console him. It was the Moroccans and a pitch invader who stepped up.

Ronaldo had been benched by Fernando Santos due to his performances in the World Cup

Ronaldo had been benched by Fernando Santos due to his performances in the World Cup

There were tantalising hints during Ronaldo’s 39-minute walk-on part in the quarter-final of the player he might still have been, were he not drowning in ego. Portugal were pitiful, a team sent out by Santos without a clue of how to improve on Spain’s limp capitulation to Morocco. Ronaldo brought movement, threat and moments of jeopardy for Morocco. He made Portugal better.

When it was over, the ego was back in charge. After his neglect of the fans as he left, we were treated to the thoughts of his girlfriend, Georgina Rodriguez, attacking Santos through an address to her man. ‘Today your friend and coach made a bad decision. That friend for whom you have so many words of admiration and respect.’  

Last night, it was through Instagram that Ronaldo outlined his own thoughts. ‘I won many international titles, including for Portugal, but putting the name of our country on the biggest one in the world was my biggest dream.

‘I battled for it. I fought hard for this dream. I left everything on the pitch. I never gave up the fight or dream. I was just one more person fighting for everyone’s goal and I would never turn my back on my team-mates and my country. Now, it’s time to let history tell the story and for everyone to draw their own conclusions.’

Portugal crashed out of the World Cup quarter-finals after losing 1-0 to underdogs Morocco

Portugal crashed out of the World Cup quarter-finals after losing 1-0 to underdogs Morocco

There was something profoundly melancholic about one of football’s greats — and arguably Portugal’s greatest — to be reflecting on his five World Cups through shrill, small social media posts. But that is how it has become for this tragic figure, who has never been more in need of wise, honest friends around him to tell him how bad and excruciating things look.

You might have expected reams of valedictory pieces from the Portuguese papers on Sunday, reflecting on the last stand of a national hero. But A Bola was reporting Luis Figo’s response to reports in which he had been quoted saying that leaving Ronaldo on the bench was a mistake. ‘If you want my real opinions, don’t invent quotes,’ retorted Figo.

‘Chora Portugal’ (‘Portugal weeps’) was Bol’s poster cover headline, beneath an image of Ronaldo on his knees at the end. But it was for the team that the nation cried. Not him.

Things look bad for Ronaldo as he played what could be his last ever game in a tournament

Things look bad for Ronaldo as he played what could be his last ever game in a tournament

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