As Ten Hag held an inquest at United’s Carrington training yesterday in which players and staff were encouraged not to pull any punches about Sunday’s shambolic 6-3 defeat by Manchester City, Ronaldo’s future was again in the spotlight after he was left on the bench.
United were accused of showing Ronaldo “nothing but disrespect” by the club’s former captain Roy Keane, who ridiculed Ten Hag’s claims that he did not bring on the five-time World Player of the Year “out of respect to his big career”.
Ronaldo cut a frustrated figure as he watched from the sidelines as United collapsed and it is understood the Portugal striker, barring a dramatic upturn in his fortunes, is hoping to get a move in January after failing to land the transfer he wanted in the summer.
Ten Hag has trodden carefully whenever the subject of Ronaldo is raised, but it is believed the United manager is open to letting the 37-year-old leave in the winter transfer window if an acceptable offer is made.
Having wanted to keep Ronaldo when he first took over, Ten Hag has been more relaxed about him leaving ever since the player made it clear he wanted to go.
Ronaldo had been keen to join a club who could give him Champions League football in the summer, but the only concrete proposal came from Saudi side Al Hilal.
The former Real Madrid player has remained highly professional despite his unhappiness at the situation.
But he is hoping his prospects of more playing time improve between now and the World Cup finals next month and that a strong showing in Qatar will boost his prospects of a move, assuming there is no change in his predicament at Old Trafford.
Ronaldo’s only Premier League start this season came in the 4-0 humiliation at Brentford, since when he has played just 80 minutes in the competition.
He was overlooked on Sunday for Anthony Martial, who came off the bench in the second half to score twice against City following his return from injury.
Ronaldo and his United team-mates looked understandably glum as they arrived at Carrington yesterday morning ahead of a derby inquest in which Ten Hag urged the players and staff not to be afraid to lay into each other. Ten Hag considered himself culpable in the defeat and encouraged players to voice their criticisms and concerns.
“It’s an open door – this performance was unacceptable,” Ten Hag said. “As a team and as individuals, we will criticise each other and then we will learn the lessons and we have to do better, starting the next game.”
Ronaldo is one of eight senior players, also including David de Gea, Marcus Rashford, Luke Shaw, Fred and Diogo Dalot, who are out of contract next summer but with options to extend until 2024.
But Ten Hag has told United’s hierarchy not to dish out any new contracts until he has determined who warrants them.
The Dutchman wants to learn more about his squad over the next six weeks until the season pauses for the World Cup before he starts to make decisions on players’ futures.
The derby capitulation provided another reality check after a run of four successive league wins and club sources say the manager remains in the process of establishing who has the stomach and quality for the fight ahead.
“He’s still in that phase of ‘Let’s see how people are, let’s see what they are up to’,” one well-placed source said. “How they adjust, how they handle pressure, how they handle not being picked, how they deal with different challenges.
“He’s still understanding them and over the next month or so he’ll start getting clarity in his head.”
Under the previous regime overseen by the former executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward, United often stood accused of stockpiling players and automatically exercising contract options or awarding new long-term deals that did not feel merited and created a false economy around depreciating assets. Ten Hag wants to move away from that culture and is keen to ensure players do not fall into comfort zones and that any new deals are hard won.
It remains to be seen if United opt to trigger the 12-month options in the contracts of players, primarily with the intention of trying to sell them for a fee next summer.
With 12 senior players leaving permanently or on loan during the summer window, including Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Edinson Cavani, Nemanja Matic, Juan Mata, Lee Grant, Eric Bailly, Alex Telles and Andreas Pereira, United belatedly began the process of clearing the decks under Ten Hag.
Insiders claimed the club had been “bit on the a--- by carrying people” in the past and that a desire for hungrier, more motivated players – coupled with the importance of keeping the wage bill in check – would drive change.