FOX Sports Insider
Cristiano Ronaldo was out of sight at the World Cup on Wednesday afternoon, but he certainly wasn’t out of mind.
Who are we kidding, when is Ronaldo ever “indifferent?”
The Portuguese superstar, just hours after it was announced he had left Manchester United by mutual consent and has been banned and fined by the Football Association for two matches with whichever club he lands next, skipped the his media. captained the national team and was replaced by teammate Bruno Fernandes at the team’s official FIFA press conference ahead of Thursday’s Group H matchup with Ghana (11 a.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app).
When Ronaldo speaks, it’s a big story. When it doesn’t, it’s arguably even bigger.
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Since the six-time World Player of the Year fell out of favor at English Premier League side United, it has been a whirlwind. The kind of whirlwind that only a guy who is one of the most famous people on Earth can create, with a record-breaking 502 million Instagram followers.
After his relationship with team manager Erik ten Hag soured, Ronaldo launched an explosively critical interview with Piers Morgan just days before the World Cup. Unsurprisingly, the hype has completely overshadowed progress in Portugal’s campaign.
However they do, Portugal coach Fernando Santos, Fernandes and even Ronaldo himself have been unable to focus attention on the team’s efforts to claim the title as one of the fringe favourites.
“(People) usually make a huge noise about things that happen and with Cristiano being so famous, it happens,” Fernandes told reporters. “But the strongest team wins.”
It is not unheard of for national team captains to miss their pre-match public appearances. In 2014, Clint Dempsey of the United States participated in his team’s availability before the World Cup group game against Portugal and was replaced by his colleague Jermaine Jones.
However, in Ronaldo’s case it was inevitable that his no-show would be directly linked to the furor surrounding his departure from United and speculation about where he would end up next.
Even in his absence, the Ronaldo circus continued. Every one of the first 10 questions, perhaps inevitably, was about him, much to Santos’ visible annoyance.
Santos, somewhat unconvincingly, denied that the Ronaldo saga was a distraction.
“I don’t think so,” Santos said. “I think that’s something that hasn’t even been discussed. There’s been no comment about it in our time together, on the field or when we’re resting. The conversation hasn’t come up at any point, not even from him.
“Whether the players talk in the rooms when they are alone, I can’t say. They have time to do whatever they want. For me, the important thing is that the players are very focused and have a great spirit.”
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The press event that Ronaldo skipped became quite the scene.
Fernandez looked uncomfortable, Santos vacillated between looking mad and being funny, and journalists from different continents were exasperated by the translation service’s malfunction. When Fernandez chose to answer questions only in Portuguese, the whole thing had an element of farcical comedy.
If you were wondering how this might affect Portugal on the pitch, who knows? It is worth considering that Ronaldo has been with the national team for almost two decades, so they are mostly used to it. In some ways his status and all that comes with it can be an advantage as it takes the spotlight and pressure off everyone else.
The team suffered a disappointing 2018, missing out on a chance to top Group B by conceding a last minute draw to Iran, then losing in the round of 16 to Uruguay. In 2014 they failed to make it out of the group, with the USA beating them into second place behind Germany.
With Lionel Messi and Argentina having stumbled in their first opener against Saudi Arabia, Ronaldo – always compared to his opponent – will be keen for a strong start against Ghana, the lowest and youngest team in the World Cup. Cup.
“We know what the World Cup means to Cristiano and his focus has always been there,” said Fernandes, who was Ronaldo’s team-mate at United. “It was good for me while it lasted (with Ronaldo in Manchester). Now Cristiano has made a different decision for his career and his family and we have to respect that.
“As for Cristiano, I don’t think what he has done or decided will have any impact on the national team. Our focus is 100 percent on Portugal.”
Everyone else’s focus? This, as always, is about Ronaldo.
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Martin Rogers is a FOX Sports columnist and author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.
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