Cristiano Ronaldo has left Manchester United after bashing the club and its owners in an explosive interview with broadcaster Piers Morgan, ending an unhappy second spell at the club where he made his name.
The Portugal forward’s mutually agreed departure would take effect immediately, the club said on Tuesday. Renowned as one of the world’s most feared strikers, Ronaldo has failed to secure a guaranteed spot in United’s starting XI this season under new manager Erik Ten Hag, who came under fire in the interview.
Ronaldo’s exit comes less than a week since the interview aired in full. The player, who is on duty for Portugal at the Fifa World Cup in Qatar, made headlines by telling the world he felt “betrayed” by United.
The criticism struck home because Ronaldo’s stardom transcends the world of sport. He is one of the most marketable athletes in the world, is the most followed person on Instagram with over 500mn followers, and has lucrative sponsorships with sportswear maker Nike and crypto group Binance.
In the Morgan interview, Ronaldo said there had been “zero” progress at United since the departure of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013, the last time the club won the Premier League.
He lashed out at the United’s US owners, the Glazer family, claiming they “don’t care about the club”. And he accused the club of prioritising marketing over football.
United fans have been holding protests against the Glazers ever since the family acquired the club in a £790mn leveraged buyout in 2005. The club’s attempt to launch the breakaway European Super League with 11 other elite European clubs last year reignited resentment among segments of the fan base, a group of whom stormed United’s Old Trafford pitch in May 2021.
Ronaldo’s relationship with Ten Hag deteriorated after the player refused to come off the substitutes bench with just a few minutes remaining in a match against Tottenham Hotspur.
“I don’t have respect for him because he doesn’t show respect for me,” Ronaldo told Morgan.
A person close to United said the club would not be paying out the remainder of Ronaldo’s contract, which was set to run until the end of the season.
“The club thanks him for his immense contribution across two spells at Old Trafford, scoring 145 gals in 346 appearances, and wishes him and his family well for the future,” United said on Tuesday.
The agreement brings an end to a difficult relationship that had started on a high with Ronaldo scoring two goals in a win against Newcastle United on his return to Manchester from Italian side Juventus in August 2021.
At the time, United justified the signing of a player by then aged 36 by highlighting Ronaldo’s physical conditioning, goalscoring prowess, the Champions League trophies he had added to his collection at Real Madrid and his league titles in Spain and Italy.
Despite Ronaldo’s 17 goals in the Premier League in 2021-22, the club failed to qualify for the prestigious Champions League. He has scored only once in the Premier League this season.
“I love Manchester United and I love the fans, that will never ever change. However, it feels like the right time for me to seek a new challenge,” Ronaldo said on Tuesday. “I wish the team every success for the remainder of the season and for the future.”