After Manchester United’s late draw against Chelsea on Saturday evening, the conversation in the Sky Sports studio turned inevitably to Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo didn’t feature in the encounter – he is currently out of the first team picture at United following his refusal to come on as a substitute against Tottenham in midweek – but the discussion focussed on the Portuguese and his future.
Central to the conversation was whether there is a way back for Ronaldo at United. Manager Erik ten Hag made the decision to banish Ronaldo after the former Real Madrid and Juventus forward left Old Trafford early after the Spurs match.
Ten Hag had previously warned Ronaldo against leaving early, and subsequently dropped him for the Chelsea match.
Neville began the debate by backing ten Hag’s decision. He said: “For me, [he] had no choice, no option… It’s a messy end and Ten Hag is trying to establish control.”
The former United captain went on to suggest that Ronaldo will have to leave the club. He said: “Cristiano is going to have to go somewhere else that’s going to play him every week because he can’t accept being on the bench.”
Neville continued: “End it this week or create a truce to get to the World Cup. It’s not doing him any favours. Leaving the dressing room before full-time, that’s not what he does. if you’re doing things like that you’ve got to leave.”
Keane broke into the discussion to offer a different perspective, suggesting that there is a way back for Ronaldo at United. The legendary midfielder said: “There are players at Man United who have done a lot worse than what he’s done.”
The Irishman cited former team-mates like Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand and Eric Cantona who all overcame significant indiscretions to continue long and successful careers at the club.
He went on, explaining what he sees Ronaldo contributing to the team: “They played Man City a few weeks ago and it could’ve been 16 [goals they conceded]. The manager says, ‘I’m not bringing him on’ because he didn’t want to disrespect Ronaldo. He goes to Everton a week later, comes on, scores a goal. Starts against Newcastle…”
When Neville suggested that few Manchester United fans would want to see Ronaldo in the starting line-up, Keane gave a curt response. He said: “I couldn’t care less what fans think. A lot of the fans haven’t got a clue.”
Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink, himself an iconic Premier League goalscorer, entered the debate at this point.
Hasselbaink said: “I don’t think they can carry him. They can’t carry him.”
The argument continued with Keane advocating for Ronaldo remaining a key player at United and Neville suggesting that the time has come to sever ties.
In support of his point, Neville raised critical comments made by Ronaldo’s former Juventus team-mates Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini.
He said: “They’ve been top players for 20 years who’ve won lots of trophies. The same things happened at Manchester United, we know him, we love him but he can’t accept not being the star man. He’s going to have to leave, that’s it, that’s all it is.”
Keane cut in, saying: “He should’ve left in August and hopefully in January.”
Neville wasn’t satisfied even with that, he responded: “I hope he leaves next week.”