CRISTIANO RONALDO is the poster boy for Manchester United’s tour which starts on Friday.
Ronaldo is used to advertise United’s pres-season tourCredit: manutd.com
There are serious doubts whether the superstar will be on the plane to ThailandCredit: Getty
In Bangkok in particular, fans will be desperate to see the Portuguese superstar.
When United toured the Far East in 2007 – playing matches in Japan, Malaysia, Korea and China – he was mobbed wherever he went.
Sponsors will have used him to sell tickets – although that is rarely a problem when United are in town.
Yet this time next week, they might want a word with the organisers back in Manchester to ask for some of their money back.
It already feels as though he will be the name on everyone’s lips throughout the two-and-a-half week tour – but not for the reasons fans on the other side of the world were hoping.
Because right now there are serious doubts whether the 37-year-old will be on the plane which leaves Manchester airport on Friday afternoon.
United remain in the dark over when he plans to report back to Carrington – with ‘family reasons’ keeping him away the last couple of days.
They know he wants to leave but remain adamant – publicly at least – that he is not for sale.
Yet the Old Trafford hierarchy might well be aware of what Pep Guardiola said just before Ronaldo returned to Manchester in August.
Players of Ronaldo’s standing in the game pretty much do what they want.
The City boss had a think about signing the former Real Madrid hero before United stepped in and brought one of their all time favourites back.
Guardiola said at the time: “In my personal view, there are a few players, Cristiano included and Lionel Messi of course, where they decide where they are going to play.
“So Cristiano will decide where he wants to play. Not Man City, not myself.”
Ten months later, he appears to have decided that place isn’t Manchester any more.
The timing of his move to engineer a way out has left plenty of people scratching their heads.
If the lack of Champions League football is a genuine reason for wanting to leave, he has waited a long time to let it be known.
It was fairly clear by early April that they were highly unlikely to finish in the top four.
For players at Old Trafford, that generally means a loss of around 25 per cent of their wages because of the loss in revenue for the club – a rule first implemented by Alex Ferguson.
That will hurt Ronaldo – although he would still take home a salary north of £350,000 per week.
Being unable to play in a competition he loves and has starred in for almost decades is even more painful.
After all, it was 2002 last time he dropped down to play in the UEFA Cup – long before it became known as the Europa League
Yet he gave an interview at the start of June in which he talked about being ‘very happy’ at United – outlining his hopes of winning trophies under Ten Hag.
Within a couple of weeks, the first noises started to drift out of Portugal that he was not entirely happy at the prospect of going back after all.
Maybe his agent Jorge Mendes waited until he knew there would be potential buyers before he began to turn up the heat.
The Portuguese striker had said he was ‘very happy’ at Old Trafford in JuneCredit: Getty
The Ronaldo drama threatens to cast a shadow over Ten Hag’s pre-season preparationCredit: Getty
The lack of summer signings made by United have also been mentioned as a source of frustration for CR7.
Yesterday’s capture of Feyenoord full-back Tyrell Malacia to provide back-up for Luke Shaw is unlikely to have changed his view.
Signing targets such as Christian Eriksen, Frenkie de Jong, Lisandro Martinez and Antony would put a very different slant on their summer dealings.
But even so, Ronaldo is casting a large shadow over the whole of Ten Hag’s first weeks in charge.
Seasoned Ronaldo watchers might recognise this script.
At Juventus last summer a clearly irritated Max Allegri announced on the eve of their opening game that Ronaldo had told him he was staying in Turin.
After days of being linked with City, he joined United soon afterwards.
And don’t forget United have seen this before too. Back in 2008, Ronaldo decided he wanted a move to Real Madrid.
He even claimed he was being made to stay at United like a ‘slave’ – even though he had four years left on his contract.
Alex Ferguson got a handle of the situation then and not only did he refuse to sell, he also managed to get another excellent season out of his star man.
Fourteen years on and United need to take control of it once again.
WHERE COULD CR7 GO NEXT?
No great history of signing older players and have played down the links – but if Robert Lewandowski goes it could change their stance.
Would be one in the eye for old rivals Real Madrid and could be tempted to take him as part of the Frenkie de Jong deal with United – but wages could prove a big hurdle.
New owner Todd Boehly is hoping to make his mark and knows it would be some statement to sign a true icon of the game. Manager Thomas Tuchel is not convinced though.
The dream is he could have the same kind of impact in Naples that Diego Maradona had. But do they have the cash to make it happen despite qualifying for the Champions League?
They love big name signing in the French capital but do they really have room for him with Messi, Mbappe and Neymar on their books? One of those might need to go to make room.
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