Only three of Manchester United’s eight games this season have seen Cristiano Ronaldo start, with two of those coming in the Europa League against Real Sociedad and Sheriff Tiraspol.
His one appearance in the Premier League came during Brentford’s dismal 4-0 loss.
Fernando Santos seems to disagree with the notion that Erik ten Hag’s choice to drop Ronaldo to the substitutes’ bench indicates that the United manager no longer believes he can be productive at the highest level right away.
Since 2014, Santos has been in charge of Portugal’s national team, and he is pleased to include the former Real Madrid player in his starting lineup. That much was made clear on Saturday night as Ronaldo led the line and captained Portugal in their 4-0 Nations League victory over the Czech Republic.
Ronaldo’s effort was a microcosm of his season so far, despite the easy victory.
Before the half, he had missed two good opportunities, clashed with the goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik, leaving Ronaldo with a bloody nose and needing medical attention, and conceded a penalty after handling the ball inside the penalty area.
For only the third time this season, he played the full 90 minutes on the field. He finished the game with four shots, all of which missed the target.
He assisted Liverpool’s Diogo Jota’s late goal, which was nodded in from close range at the far post, thanks to a mistimed header aimed for the bottom corner.
Bruno Fernandes and Diogo Dalot, who play for Manchester United, outperformed Cristiano Ronaldo for the second time this season, providing more proof that the squad can succeed without the talismanic forward’s assistance.
One of Dalot’s two goals was assisted by Fernandes, who also scored once.
When Ronaldo puts on the Portugal shirt, his poor performance and lack of match sharpness seem unimportant.
Only two players (Soh Chin-Ann of Malaysia and Bader Al-Mutawa of Kuwait) have more caps than his 190, and his tally of 117 international goals continues to stand as a global record.
Leaving Ronaldo out of Portugal’s starting lineup for the World Cup in Qatar in November seems unthinkable, but Santos must be worried about the striker’s insufficient playing time even if he would not confess it in public.
Ronaldo will likely be fitter and have more energy if he doesn’t play for Manchester United, but the drawback is a loss of match sharpness.
He blew a significant chance against the Czech Republic in the first half, stared down at the field before raising his arms in fury, seemingly attributing the mistake to the grass.
When given the chance, you would almost certainly predict the 37-year-conversion old’s.
Santos will have to wait and see if Ronaldo regains his scoring touch, despite the fact that he continued to put himself in advantageous scoring situations on Saturday night.
History indicates that he will. You do not score as many goals as the Manchester United star has over the course of his trophy-laden career and then suddenly lose the ability to do it, after all.
In addition, he will continue to be driven to perform and achieve on the biggest platform.
Ronaldo usually shines when it counts and the world is watching for him to do something exceptional. He craves the big moments, which is why he put himself forward last week to represent Portugal in Euro 2024.
Ronaldo will be 39 years old when the tournament takes place in Germany in 21 months, which would be 20 years after Euro 2004, his first major tournament debut.
“I’m in a national team with a lot of young players with extraordinary futures,” he said. “Obviously, I still want to be a part of it, at the World Cup — and at the Euro as well, I can admit that already. I am happy. I confess that I was missing the feeling of receiving a prize!
Even though Ronaldo is out of form, unpopular at Ten Hag’s Manchester United, and in need of game time before the World Cup, he has a manager in Santos who is much more inclined to support him wholeheartedly than bench him.
But more crucially, Ronaldo’s confidence hasn’t yet diminished.
Even if he spends the majority of the time between now and the start of the tournament on United’s bench, his confidence will get him there. However, Portugal fans may be concerned that Saturday night served to demonstrate that match sharpness cannot be substituted.