“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain,” Harvey Dent says in Batman’s “The Dark Knight,” foreshadowing his descent from a hero to a villain.
Could the same be said about Cristiano Ronaldo?
It is no secret that the Portuguese superstar has not enjoyed a fairytale reunion with Manchester United ever since he returned to Old Trafford last year.
In the latest twist in the saga between Ronaldo and United, clips from an explosive interview with Piers Morgan for Talk TV were released this week in which Ronaldo said he had been “betrayed” by the club.
The full interview will be released over two nights on Wednesday and Thursday.
Specifically, Ronaldo is unhappy with new Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag, who dropped the forward after he left Manchester United’s game against Tottenham Hotspur last month before the end of the match.
“I don’t have respect for him because he doesn’t show respect for me,” Ronaldo said. “If you don’t have respect for me, I’m never gonna have respect for you.”
Ronaldo enjoyed unprecedented success at Manchester United after joining the club in the summer of 2003. Over the next six years, he would transform himself from a tricky winger into the best player in the world – collecting the first of his five Ballon d’Ors in 2008.
In that time, he won three Premier League titles, the FA Cup, two League Cups and the Champions League – a tournament with which Ronaldo has since become synonymous.
But since returning to England, he has not enjoyed the same success. Last season was Ronaldo’s first in 17 years in which he did not win any trophies, a stretch going back to his first stint at the club.
Since trying to force a move away from United over the summer, Ronaldo has featured sparingly, only making 16 appearances for the Red Devils.
That number is unlikely to increase after the Talk TV interview, which may well spell the end of his time in Manchester.
Ronaldo now says he feels like he was being forced out of the club by ten Hag, but what he failed to mention was that he was the one pushing for a move in the summer after United failed to qualify for the Champions League.
In the interview, he also reflected on his personal tragedy. Earlier this year, he and his partner, Georgina Rodríguez, announced their baby son had died.
Ronaldo also said his baby daughter ended up in the hospital this year, which he cited as the reason he missed the majority of preseason training with United.
But after taking aim at his coach, former teammates, the club, and the owners, many have been dismayed by Ronaldo’s swipes at his employer.
“I’m totally baffled and confused as to why he’s done this interview,” former England international turned pundit Jermaine Jenas said on BBC’s Match Of The Day 2.
“We’ve seen nothing but almost petulance throughout the whole year with the walking down the tunnel. Today he was supposedly ill. Now he’s doing interviews with Piers Morgan.
“He’s a frustrated player. Whether he feels lied to or not, today just doesn’t feel right to me. He has to be [done at United].”
Beth Tucker, a presenter for United fan channel The United Stand, appreciated Ronaldo’s criticism of the United ownership, but not of how he treated the club or ten Hag.
“If he wanted to hit the club, he should have come out against the Glazers. He shouldn’t have come out against the manager as well,” Tucker said on The United Stand.
“He thinks he is [bigger than Ten Hag] and in the footballing world he is, but at Manchester United right now he’s not. No player is bigger than the club and the manager.”
This summer, Ronaldo was linked with a variety of teams, including Atlético Madrid, Chelsea, Napoli, Bayern Munich and even a return to Sporting Lisbon, where he emerged as a talent 20 years ago.
But despite his tag as an elite striker and his haul of 18 goals last season, Ronaldo seemed incapable of attracting any offers to take him away from United.
One of the reasons is his immense salary at United, which his current deal believed to be in the region of $560,000 a week.
But the bigger turn off for clubs may be the behavior of Ronaldo, who has now twice left matches early this season and has done an interview in which he openly disparages his club.
When Bayern was connected to signing Ronaldo this summer, the club’s CEO Oliver Kahn was quick to say that the player “wouldn’t be a fit.”
He said: “I love Cristiano Ronaldo and everyone knows how fantastic he is. But every club has a certain philosophy and I’m not sure if it would be the right thing for Bayern and the Bundesliga if we signed him now.”
Despite his impressive personal haul last season, Ronaldo was routinely criticized for his behavior at United – both on and off the pitch, where other players seemed to be sacrificing their own talent to service the superstar.
On Monday, Ronaldo tweeted that he had “total and absolute focus on the work of the national team” ahead of the World Cup, which gets underway this week.
When contacted by CNN, Man United and the Glazer family said they had no further comment following an original statement on the matter.
In that statement, the club said: “Manchester United notes the media coverage regarding an interview by Cristiano Ronaldo. The club will consider its response after the full facts have been established.
“Our focus remains on preparing for the second half of the season and continuing the momentum, belief and togetherness being built among the players, manager, staff, and fans.”
Some, including former United defender Rio Ferdinand, believe Ronaldo’s association with the club will have to come to an end.
“This has all been manufactured for one thing – and that’s for him to leave the club,” Ferdinand said on his Vibe with Five podcast.
“I don’t feel the club will take him back and I don’t think that he wants to come back. This is all manufactured for that reason.”
Ronaldo still holds phenomenal commercial value as a player and is the most followed person on the planet on social media platforms. Even with his incredible salary, most club accountants would say it is worth signing him.
But Ronaldo has struggled to find his place of late, demanding that a club not only incorporates him in the team, but also builds the team around him. For a 37-year-old arguably past his best, that is not something clubs are looking to do.
After this interview, it is also clear Ronaldo is a potential liability for an elite team and most clubs will now look at signing the forward with less wonder and more caution.
Once a hero of the game, he is in danger of quickly becoming a villain.