Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal performance shows Erik ten Hag and Manchester United were right

Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal
Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal looks dejected after Lukas Provod of Czechia (not pictured) scores his team's first goal during the UEFA EURO 2024 group stage match between Portugal and Czechia at Football Stadium Leipzig on June 18, 2024 in Leipzig, Germany

The dust settled on Cristiano Ronaldo's acrimonious divorce from Manchester United such a long time ago it was not even mentioned on the BBC's coverage of Portugal against Czech Republic.

The 39-year-old has played in Saudi Arabia since January last year and few could name the specific club, such is the lack of interest in the Saudi Pro League retirement home. But Ronaldo still generates reverence.

His namesake was dubbed Il Fenomeno but Ronaldo is the true phenomenon. This is his sixth Euros 20 years on from the first. Francisco Conceição, Portugal's matchwinner in Leipzig, was 18 months old when Ronaldo scored in his home Euros in 2004.

That longevity in the modern era is nothing short of remarkable. Ronaldo is one of sport's most driven athletes and, though he has blemished an elite club career with sportswashing, his record in the Middle East indicates he has not put his feet up.

Ronaldo forced his departure from United 19 months ago but it felt relevant watching him struggle through Portugal's late victory. His two best chances were both wasted and both from offside positions. Ronaldo's only role in Portugal's winning goal was to goad a couple of Czech players.

Snatching at those chances was reminiscent of Ronaldo's final months with United. He was downgraded to a canny impact sub and unused in the 6-3 shellacking at Manchester City "out of respect for his big career", in the dubious words of Erik ten Hag.

The former Portugal coach, Fernando Santos, dropped Ronaldo at the last World Cup and his replacement, Goncalo Ramos, claimed a hat-trick against Switzerland in the round-of-16. Santos was sacked after the quarter-final ejection by Morocco.

If ever a coach were to welcome Ronaldo back into the fold it had to be Roberto Martinez. Time will tell if Portugal erred in appointing a coach who squandered the most gifted generation of Belgian footballers at their underwhelming Euro 2020 campaign and dire 2022 World Cup.

As Portugal strove to recover from 1-0 down against the Czechs, Martinez made five substitutions and he was never going to hook the creaking frontman into his 40th year. Martinez has always been a soft touch. Ten Hag isn't.

Ten Hag dealt with Ronaldo impeecably

Ronaldo has plundered 58 goals in 64 games for (checks Google) Al-Nassr. The top two clubs in the Saudi retirement home, Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal, tallied 201 goals between them. It is a league the Fast Show's Competitive Dad would thrive in.

Watching Ronaldo against the Czechs, there was little different from the faded force of his final three months at United. He managed three goals under Ten Hag - one in the Premier League and two in the Europa League against FC Sheriff. One was a penalty.

United were better with Ronaldo in the 2021-22 season and better off without him in 2022-23. His heart was no longer in it once he was deprived of nights in the Champions League, a competition he once monopolised.

Ronaldo's agent, Jorge Mendes, sounded out Atletico Madrid, Napoli, Chelsea, AC Milan et al. in the summer of 2022. No takers were forthcoming. Ronaldo tasked his confidant, Ricky Regufe, with securing a move to Al-Nassr.

Ronaldo raged against the dying of the light but it had gone out. The lack of a proper pre-season (missed with permission to be with his unwell baby daughter who had bronchitis) left Ronaldo behind the curve and he never caught up. United were actually slicker with Anthony Martial than Ronaldo.

It irked Ten Hag that Martial offered Rasmus Hojlund next to no assistance as a support striker last season. Wout Weghorst was more committed than Ronaldo but so hopeless he scraped two tap-ins from 31 appearances.

Ronaldo is the game's greatest goalscorer and United ended last season with a humiliating minus goal difference. None of their players broke the 20-goal barrier. But they are not pining for their ex since the divorce.

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