No one doubts that Ronaldo has been one of the two best players in the world for a decade and more, with his brilliance on the field cementing his legacy as one of the game’s all-time greats.
Yet that status, and the aura it gives him, makes it tricky to manage a player of that stature, because he has an influence over the club that goes beyond the man picking the team.
As we have seen with Kylian Mbappe at Paris Saint-Germain, the club’s desire to keep one of the best players in the world last summer saw them hand him a ridiculous contract.
If the reports are to be believed, he is earning close to €1million-a-week and has a say in picking managers and sporting directors.
When players have that much influence at a club, it is close to impossible to assert your authority over them.
Erik ten Hag has clearly been battling to show that he is the boss with Ronaldo, but that isn’t easy for a coach who doesn’t have anywhere near the status in the game as the player he is trying to deal with.
Ronaldo came back late to training at United last summer, asked to leave the club and Ten Hag has been left to clear up the mess after the player failed to find a way out of Old Trafford. The temptation would be to put Ronaldo in the team, and let him score you the goals that could get United back into the Champions League.
Yet that could look like weak management after Ronaldo’s antics last summer, so Ten Hag has tried to put his foot down instead.
Inevitably, that has sparked a backlash from Ronaldo – and, to a point, I can see both sides of the story here.
None of the players I dealt with during my time as Tranmere manager had anything like the reputation of Ronaldo, but I did have to deal with players who challenged my authority, and you have to be strong.
If you are Cristiano Ronaldo, a player who has won five Champions League titles and has scored 700 goals in his career, you do deserve to be treated a little differently to a ‘normal’ player.
So when Ten Hag leaves Ronaldo on the bench, tells him to warm up every few minutes and then waits to put him on for the last minute against Spurs, I can see why he is annoyed.
If the United boss wanted to waste time, he could have put anyone on for that purpose and not used Ronaldo for that job.
On the other hand, Ronaldo shouldn’t refuse to go on and storm out of the stadium in a very public show of contempt for his manager.
So Ten Hag has to then deal with the way the player handled that situation, otherwise he could lose the respect of others in his dressing room.
It’s a fine balancing act when you know the owners of the club want Ronaldo to stay, because of his huge commercial appeal around the world.
The last thing the Old Trafford bean counters want is the image of a world sporting superstar being treated badly by their club, so Ten Hag is in a difficult position.
There are only a select few sporting greats who command this level of attention – and, unfortunately, for the United boss, he has one of them on his radar for now.
I’m sure Ronaldo will leave United in January – and you have to admire his eagerness to play every game at the age of 37, as his hunger has ever died.
This guy has more money than anyone in football (except for the guys financially doping Man City, PSG and Newcastle), but he wants more goals and more success.
That desire and longevity adds to Ronaldo’s legacy – and, while he is not the player he once was, he can still produce moments of brilliance that can win you a game in a flash.
Every time Manchester United don’t win a game and Ten Hag has left Ronaldo out, people will question the decision – and I saw Roy Keane doing that in their game against Chelsea last weekend.
The only solution here is a parting of the ways, but that just moves the problem of how a manager deals with players of this stature.
United are in action against West Ham at Old Trafford today and Ronaldo will probably be back on the bench once more.
So far, the decision to go with other players has worked for Ten Hag – and I have been impressed by the progress he has made.
To be fair, Liverpool gave United’s season a massive lift when they failed to turn up at Old Trafford and got beaten.
It was a win that fuelled the belief in the United squad – and there is no doubt they have closed the gap on the teams in front of them.
Looking at where they were last season, I thought Ten Hag would need a couple of years to get them back in contention at the top of the table.
Yet they are in the mix for a top-four finish this season – and it will be a race that will take a lot of turns before we see the full picture.
I’m sure Arsenal will hit a wall sooner rather than later, as they have had a lot of decisions and luck go their way in the opening three months of the season.
They will come back to the pack and Manchester City will win the title by a long way.
It will come down to Arsenal, Spurs, Chelsea, United, Liverpool and maybe Newcastle for the other three Champions League places – and, at this point, it really could go in any direction.
Barcelona and Juventus were among the big name teams crashing out of the Champions League this week – but I don’t see Liverpool cashing in on the Italian and Spanish sides’ demises on current form.
Seeing Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid go out of the competition, as well, was enjoyable after all the misery he has inflicted on the game with his brand of tactics in recent years.
Yet Liverpool are still outsiders to win the competition this season – as in my eyes they lack the consistency you need to win it. They ended up beating Ajax 3-0 on Wednesday night, but could have been behind before they took the lead, as their opponents let them off the hook by missing big chances.
You just feel that this season’s Liverpool team lack the inner belief that they will come through games when they are not at their best, which is what we saw from them in recent years.
So I fear they will slip up at some point in the knockout stages of the competition and the door is open for another team to get their hands on the trophy this season.
I hope that isn’t Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain, as they are slowly, but surely taking over the game with their ridiculous spending blowing the opposition away.
Yet the reality is, no one at UEFA seems willing to stand in their way – and, unless they do, there is a real chance the clubs not owned by oil-rich states simply won’t be able to compete.