Could Cristiano Ronaldo retire at the end of the World Cup?
As much as many may not want to admit it, the footballing world is desperate to see what Cristiano Ronaldo is going to do next.
It was announced by Manchester United earlier this week that Ronaldo’s contract had been terminated by mutual consent with half of the season left. The move comes after his explosive TalkTV interview where, among other things, he said he does not respect manager Erik ten Hag.
That means that he is now a free agent at the age of 37. He will be 38 in February, meaning he is certainly in the territory where footballers tend to retire.
Ronaldo may be without a club, but he is very much occupied for the next month. Despite his lack of game time and poor form for Manchester United, he is expected to lead the line for Portugal at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
There is no doubt that this is his last chance to win the World Cup with his national team and he will do everything in his power to achieve that life-long goal. It would be an incredible way to end a career that, regardless of the recent controversy, has seen him win 30 major club honours across four countries, as well as both Euro 2016 and the 2018/19 Nations League with Portugal.
Many feel that Portugal coach Fernando Santos should be building his squad around younger stars such as Joao Felix, Bruno Fernandes, Rafael Leao and Bernardo Silva. That does not seem to be the plan though and it is likely that Ronaldo will be the starting striker.
Considering Ronaldo’s age, declining ability, and now damaged reputation when it comes to being part of a dressing room, the idea of him calling time on his career after the 2022 World Cup has been floated.
We saw Zinedine Zidane retire that way in 2006, although he had to retire as a World Cup final loser who had been sent off for headbutting an opponent in the chest. The Frenchman had also previously announced his intention to hang up his boots after the tournament several months earlier.
There is certainly plenty of logic to the idea as this could be the highest level Ronaldo will get the chance to play at from here on in. He wants to join a Champions League team, but there is little suggestion so far that any Champions League-level club wants him.
The chances of him not returning after the tournament certainly grow if Portugal were to win the whole thing, but they are not viewed as one of the favourites as Santos has often struggled to get the best out of the abundance of attacking talent that he has to choose from.
Assuming that Portugal do not win the World Cup this winter, very little of what Ronaldo has said in recent interviews has suggested that he is starting to lose faith in himself. His whole career has been built around having the perfect diet and physique to play at the highest level into his 40s.
Unfortunately for him, that may not be possible anymore. But it would take a serious mentality shift for Ronaldo to throw the towel in on his club career at the age of 37, especially considering that just last season, he scored 24 goals for Manchester United in all competitions.
Ronaldo will absolutely feel that he can still do a job somewhere, but United had stopped being the place where he can perform to his best, whatever that may be now.
There are two clubs that currently seem to be the most plausible destinations for Ronaldo. They are Chelsea, who can immediately offer Champions League football, and Sporting CP, where he started his career and could be back in the Champions League next season following recent elimination.
Assuming he does not retire, it seems likely that Ronaldo will be turning out for one of these two clubs, or a team in the Middle East or MLS.