Real face Ronaldo conundrum
Real Madrid's 3-0 home win over Granada in La Liga on Sunday night seemed about as routine as could be. Madrid had not played particularly well, and Cristiano Ronaldo had not looked particularly delighted after scoring two of Real's goals, but neither of those two things were particularly novel.
Even before the final whistle went, most observers had already turned their focus to Barcelona's home game against Valencia, when reports started to emerge from the Bernabeu mixed zone that a proper big story was breaking: Ronaldo was not happy, and wanted everyone to know.
"I am sad, and the people at the club know it, that is why I did not celebrate the goals," he haltingly but clearly told the assembled reporters about half an hour after the game. "There are professional issues. I cannot say any more. We will see what happens."
The immediate response from those present was that Ronaldo was upset that Barcelona's Andres Iniesta had won the UEFA Best Player in Europe Award last Friday, leaving the Portuguese standing trophyless on the podium as Iniesta received all the applause, but the player himself denied that this was a problem.
"If I won I would not have been surprised, if I lost I would not have been surprised," he said. "I am fine about that. Iniesta won, and he deserved it."
This left people wondering what else might be up, and checking Twitter or turning on the radio and TV to find out. Spanish radio host Jose Ramon de la Morena broke the story soon afterwards that Ronaldo had met with Real Madrid president Florentino Perez and the club's director general Jose Angel Sanchez on Saturday, and told them he wanted to quit the Spanish giants.
"He went into Perez office and told the Madrid president and Jose Angel Sanchez that he wanted to leave Real Madrid," de la Morena revealed. "He said he did not feel loved within the squad, and did not feel supported by the rest of his team-mates. [Perez and Sanchez] were left like stone, because at this point, already September, you cannot do this kind of thing."
This opened up the possibility that Ronaldo had received a huge offer from another club, perhaps Manchester City or, with the French and Russian transfer windows still open, big spending Paris St Germain or Anzhi Makhachkala. According to de la Morena this was not the case, it was more that Ronaldo had fallen out with previous friends in the Madrid dressing room.
"[Perez] rang Jorge Mendes, Ronaldo's agent, and asked them if he had received a huge offer or something like that, and Mendes said no, that he had not received anything, that it was a personal matter for Ronaldo," said the radio host, whose late night show on Cadena Ser often breaks important and well sourced stories, and who has spoken before of strains between Spanish and Portuguese factions in the Madrid dressing-room.
"Ronaldo told them that he was not happy in the team, that he was distanced from nearly everyone and especially from Marcelo. They do not talk since Marcelo said that Casillas could be a perfect Ballon D'Or winner. Cristiano was very affected, as previously Marcelo, Pepe, [Fabio] Coentrao and Cristiano were a very close group, eating together at training. Today, when Cristiano scored his first goal, Marcelo went and hugged [Jose] Callejon. They do not have the same relationship as before."
The focus soon switched to Spanish TV, and the tabloid-style discussion show Punta Pelota, which usually features partisan guests taking very strong pro or anti Real Madrid or Barcelona positions and arguing noisily and at length. Regular pundit Siro Lopez, who last year was very quick with the story that Jose Mourinho was considering leaving Madrid and returning to the Premier League, had the most startling revelation.
"(Ronaldo) has a problem with his state of mind, because he does not feel loved, " Lopez said. "After the game he spent 20 minutes crying."
Ronaldo had been substituted with just over an hour gone after receiving a heavy challenge from Granada defender Borja Gomez. He had then sat on the sideline watching the game with an ice-pack on his leg for 10 minutes, before leaving the bench and disappearing down the tunnel, but there was no confirmation beyond Lopez's word that he had been especially distressed.
Lopez's colleague on Punta Pelota, 'Mad Madridista' Tomas Roncero of AS, blamed one of Ronaldo's colleagues for club and country for the problems.
"Coentrao is the person responsible as he is a bad influence on CR7," reckoned Roncero. "He (Coentrao) puts lots of ideas in the head of our superstar because he is very close to him."
Coentrao has never been a popular figure in Madrid. When he arrived for €30 million in the summer of 2011 from Benfica, many observers thought the fee was too high and noted that the Portuguese international shared an agent (Mendes) with both Ronaldo and Madrid coach Jose Mourinho. Most Spanish pundits feel that Marcelo is a better left-back and complain when Coentrao is preferred by Mourinho for clasicos against Barcelona and big Champions League games.
These pundits conveniently forget that Marcelo, while excellent going forward, had regularly been found out defensively - especially against Barcelona - so Mourinho's decision makes objective sense. The feeling is that Coentrao has been used as a 'whipping boy' by those in the Madrid media who would like to criticise Mourinho and Mendes, but do not want to do so directly.
Another complication is that Coentrao was banned for four games last week for insulting the referee during Madrid's loss at Getafe last Sunday, a much stiffer ban than other players have received for similar offences in previous seasons. Although this decision was made by Spain's competition committee, and therefore nothing to do with Madrid the club, it could have added to a feeling of persecution. Again, this was only speculation, but given Ronaldo's refusal to go into any details on the reasons for his unhappiness, there was a vacuum to be filled.
On radio show El Larguero, AS editor Alfredo Relano gave what seemed a more balanced view of what might be going on in Cristiano's mind.
"He wants more money," said Relano. "A while ago he was talking about a contract for life. The price of a superstar has gone up after all the goals he has scored and after all Madrid have won."
This made more sense, especially considering the tactics used by Mourinho last February, when photographs of his supposedly 'secret' house-hunting visit to London appeared in the Spanish, English and global media. The coach further fuelled speculation that he might leave Madrid by keeping quiet on the issue. The end result was a new improved contract being agreed in May, which pays a reported £10 million-a-year.
Ronaldo is on similar money himself at the moment, and last Spring he was widely understood to be discussing an extension to his current deal, which ends in 2015. At that point, Manchester City were reportedly willing to offer to double his current wages, and the situation is complicated by the ending of Spain's 'Beckham Law' which means players will now have to pay significantly higher income tax rates than previously.
Monday morning's Spanish football papers (including both Madrid leaning AS and Marca) are reporting that the meeting with Perez on Saturday did take place, and that the player did say he wanted to leave, but there is no consensus on his motives for going public on his unhappiness and the next move from the player or the club.
In the short-term Ronaldo is leaving the Spanish capital, as Portugal begin their Brazil 2014 qualifying campaign away to Luxembourg on Friday night, then host Azerbaijan in Braga on Tuesday. The Portuguese captain, who famously did not get a chance to take a penalty as his side lost to Spain in the shoot-out which decided their Euro 2012 semi-final last June, said he was keen to help his country.
"I am not well, but I am going to go with Portugal, to see if I can recover in a few days because I want to play these two very important games for us," he said. "We need to win to qualify."
Ronaldo's absence from Madrid for a week is unlikely to stop the Spanish rumour mill from churning out new stories of various levels of believability. Which presumably Ronaldo, and his representatives, were well aware of when he stopped to talk to reporters at Bernabeu Sunday night. This one looks set to run and run.