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Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag wins Ronaldo battle – now it’s time to win some trophies

Cristiano Ronaldo is to leave Manchester United by mutual agreement with immediate effect© PA


Erik ten Hag 1, Cristiano Ronaldo 0. It is not a scoreline the Manchester United manager will revel in but the agreement to terminate the Portuguese superstar’s contract is the ultimate endorsement of him by the club.

In a sense United, of course, had no choice after Ronaldo said he did not “respect” Ten Hag.

The forward lit the red touchpaper and stood back. Ending his deal with the club he professed to love and provoking them to tear it up was seemingly his goal also.

There will be no joy in this from Ten Hag, only relief that it has been swiftly resolved and he can get on with the job of rebuilding United which has begun so encouragingly.

Even more than United agreeing to spend €100m on the Brazil forward Antony from Ajax – almost double the price they originally wanted to pay but Ten Hag insisted he was the one he wanted – this is the greatest seal of approval for the Dutchman.

​As much as United’s largely encouraging performances on the pitch in recent weeks, it helped that Ten Hag has handled the situation so professionally and, despite Ronaldo’s histrionics, respectfully. One man can hold his head high after this episode and it is not the one who’s one of the greatest players ever to play the game.

The only dignity Ronaldo can take is that he agreed to terminate the remainder of his contract by mutual consent and, therefore, has not tried to engineer some kind of pay-off. United, and Ten Hag was adamant about this, would not countenance that. He did not deserve another penny.

The irony is, and this appears to have been lost on Ronaldo in his ego-trip of an interview with Piers Morgan, that Ten Hag had already agreed he could leave for free once the January transfer window opened.

Ten Hag agreed that the 37-year-old could leave last summer once his agent, Jorge Mendes, started to unsuccessfully tout him around clubs including Chelsea and Bayern Munich, after Ronaldo decided he wanted out. Despite his insistence he had multiple offers at the time that were not accepted by United – strange as they said they would waive a fee – he stayed. United sources insist the only bid came from a Saudi club Al Hilal – and not one that was in the Champions League as he expected.

It was reported again in October, after the humiliating Manchester derby defeat when Ronaldo stayed on the substitutes’ bench, that he could go.

It means Ten Hag has been relaxed about the situation for months and it is telling that, apart from Diogo Dalot who idolises Ronaldo, there has not been a groundswell of support for the player from inside the United dressing-room. Team-mates were as fed up with Ronaldo as the club and wanted the circus to leave town.

Ten Hag wanted him to stay when he took over at United, which surprised some. Instead he reasoned that with so much rebuilding to do, taking out Ronaldo and the goals he scores – 18 in the Premier League last season in a struggling side – was not needed and might be a risk.

Ten Hag hoped he would get one more season out of Ronaldo although there was an understandable caveat that, clearly, he could not accept: the striker could not expect to start every game, not at his age and not with the style of football the manager wanted to play.

It was a perfectly reasonable request but was the start of the schism. It widened further with Ronaldo’s first act of defiance, leaving Old Trafford mid-way through a friendly against Rayo Vallecano and although he was not the only player to do so, and Ten Hag rebuked others, including Dalot, it was wrongly interpreted by Ronaldo’s camp as an attack at Ronaldo.

Offence was also taken when Ronaldo did not come on against Manchester City, in that 6-3 defeat, when it was overlooked that Ten Hag reasoned there was no use him enduring that ordeal when the game was over. His intent was respectful.

Bizarrely, it was claimed Ten Hag was being inconsistent when he did then ask Ronaldo to come on in the final minutes of the win against Tottenham which prompted the player to storm off, leave the stadium again, be fined and dropped and so hurried up his inevitable exit.

With all of this any reasonable fan or observer will know where the fault lies. Ten Hag even made Ronaldo captain recently against Aston Villa but that olive branch was snapped and thrown back in his face. The break has now been made and, in fairness, it has been achieved as cleanly as possible.

United still have five more weeks before they resume their season which gives them time to plan whether they move for a replacement in the January window. They will be saving a huge chunk of cash which should be funnelled to help Ten Hag and strengthen his position even more as he knows that he’ll need to start winning trophies before next season is over.

The soap opera has ended.

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