Erik ten Hag believes Manchester United fans would be justified in turning on Cristiano Ronaldo after the forward refused to come on as a substitute and walked off down the tunnel during Wednesday’s win over Tottenham.
Ten Hag has suspended the 37-year-old from Saturday’s trip to Chelsea and ordered him to train with the club’s under-21s, explaining that as the manager he has a responsibility to “set standards and values” at the club. He said Ronaldo could have no complaints if there were a backlash, but first outlined that the Portugal international had merited the adulation built from his supreme success.
“I think it’s justified because he achieved a lot in his career – it’s so brilliant,” he said. “But he also has to be aware that you always get [judged] by the moment and how you are acting today. Especially in top sport, it is about today. It is not about age or reputation. When you are in top sport you get judged by the moment and how you act; that’s normal. We have to be aware of that – everyone, not only Cristiano, as a team, as a manager and as a club.”
Ten Hag was noncommittal when asked whether United fans deserved an apology from Ronaldo given that his actions on Wednesday showed disrespect to their club.
“He has to live as anyone else along certain standards and the standards we set this season,” he replied.
The United manager said Ronaldo would train again with the first team on Monday provided they have successful discussions beforehand. “We will first talk,” he said, though he added that his intention was not to prolong the player’s absence. “That is not my purpose. I don’t want to miss him – I want him to be in the squad and be involved for every game because he has an impact.”
Ten Hag insisted he did not want Ronaldo to depart in the January transfer window. “That is speculation,” he said of a possible departure. “I count on Cristiano [until the end of the season].”
It is thought Ten Hag would countenance Ronaldo’s exit, with Richard Arnold, the United chief executive, backing him over that if it were to happen, though the player’s wages of about £500,000 a week mean agreeing a deal with another club is difficult. There is the further issue of signing a replacement centre-forward of requisite quality.
Ten Hag stated the importance of maintaining an elite culture. “I am the manager, I am responsible for the top sport culture here and I have to set standards and values and I have to control them,” he said.
The Dutchman referred to Ronaldo previously leaving Old Trafford before the end of July’s friendly with Rayo Vallecano after being replaced at half-time. “After Rayo Vallecano, I told [him] it was unacceptable but he was not the only one. But that is for everyone, so when it’s the second time there will be consequences. That is now what we did.
“We miss him tomorrow – I don’t like it because I prefer the squad with Cristiano on board. But for the squad it’s important for the attitude and mentality of the group and now we have to focus on Chelsea as that is the most important thing.
“The expectations of Manchester United are really high. The ambitions are high. Our fans, all of our stakeholders expect results, so you have to act to certain standards and work every day on that. Cristiano is not in the squad but he’s training to keep himself fit to get ready for the next game after Chelsea.”
Ten Hag took the decision to suspend Ronaldo despite Anthony Martial, his other frontline No 9, remaining injured.