Cristiano Ronaldo’s controversial second spell at Manchester United is to end with “immediate effect”, the Premier League giants announced Tuesday.
The Portugal forward appeared to be on his way out of Old Trafford following last week’s television interview with Piers Morgan on TalkTV in which he said he felt “betrayed” by the club and had no respect for new manager Erik ten Hag.
“Cristiano Ronaldo is to leave Manchester United by mutual agreement, with immediate effect,” said a United statement.
“The club thanks him for his immense contribution across two spells at Old Trafford, scoring 145 goals in 346 appearances, and wishes him and his family well for the future.
“Everyone at Manchester United remains focused on continuing the team’s progress under Erik ten Hag and working together to deliver success on the pitch.”
– ‘Love United, love the fans’ –
Ronaldo issued a statement of his own, saying: “Following conversations with Manchester United we have mutually agreed to end our contract early.
“I love Manchester United and I love the fans, that will never ever change. However, it feels like the right time for me to seek a new challenge.
“I wish the team every success for the remainder of the season and for the future.”
As well as criticising the Old Trafford hierarchy and Ten Hag during his television interview, the 37-year-old Ronaldo, currently with the Portugal squad at the World Cup in Qatar, was scathing about the club’s US owners.
Ronaldo said the Glazer family cared far more about the money-making potential of United than results on the pitch.
He even turned on former team-mates Gary Neville and Wayne Rooney, saying “they are not my friends” after recent criticism from the pair.
United were initially guarded after the interview first aired, saying they would consider their response “after the full facts have been established”.
But given the severity of his comments, there seemed no way Ronaldo could remain at Old Trafford under the current regime.
The veteran, who recently scored the 700th goal of a club career embracing several teams, appeared to be angling for a move in the pre-season transfer window after United failed to qualify for the 2022/23 Champions League.
But leading English and European clubs opted against moving for a player who, for all his talent, is not the force he once was yet still commands a reported weekly pay packet at United of around £500,000 ($593,000).
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner has, however reportedly held talks with Bayern Munich and been linked with an emotional return to Sporting Lisbon, where he came through the youth ranks.
– Reduced status –
Ronaldo has undoubtedly been angered by his reduced status at United, with the club no longer at the summit of English football.
In 2009 he left a United who were one of the top teams in Europe but the side he rejoined limped to a sixth-place finish in the Premier League despite his 24 goals in all competitions.
Ronaldo made his name in his first spell at Old Trafford, developing from a prodigiously gifted teenager when he arrived in 2003 into one of the deadliest attackers in world football.
He won his first Champions League trophy and first Ballon d’Or during a trophy-laden spell under Alex Ferguson.
He left United after six years for Real Madrid, where he became the club’s greatest goalscorer, winning the Champions League four more times.
Ronaldo spent three years at Juventus from 2018 before a return to Manchester.
But he has been a peripheral figure this season in an improving side under Ten Hag and was recently disciplined for refusing to come on as a substitute.
Ronaldo, who has scored just three goals this season, had returned to the team in recent weeks and even captained the Red Devils in a 3-1 loss at Aston Villa, though he was not in the squad for United’s final match before the World Cup break.
With a world-record 117 international goals he is captaining Portugal at his fifth World Cup.
The Euro 2016 winners open their campaign in Qatar against Ghana on Thursday.