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Cristiano Ronaldo and the first stage of grief

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3 mins read
Cristiano Ronaldo and the first stage of grief

“Welcome home,” wrote Manchester United across their social media channels as they announced the return of Cristiano Ronaldo. Less than 15 months later, they announced his departure with a perfunctory seven-line—the irony unmissable—statement.

Majority of the Man United fanbase rejoiced, celebrated Cristiano’s “homecoming”. With the latest announcement, there’s little feeling of gratitude, no remorse over losing him as had been felt thirteen years ago, albeit there’s palpable sadness with the way it had to end. There is, instead, jubilation. Relief. Finally, the club can move forward.

It’s not that Cristiano didn’t make a noise in the lead up to his first departure from the club in 2009, but twelve years were more than enough to let a thick cloud of nostalgia settle in and let the Red Devils reminisce about the good times that used to be in contrast to the present-day mediocrity. This time, however, the Portuguese has burnt a lot of bridges, voluntarily so. The not-too-long-ago prodigal son of Old Trafford is reduced to but a former player.


“The owners of the club listen, the Glazers, they don’t care about the club. I mean professional sport as you know Manchester is a marketing club, they will get money from the marketing, the sports they don’t really care [about], in my opinion.”

With these words, as spoken to Piers Morgan in the interview that took him to the point of no return, in another life, Cristiano would have been hailed as a hero for going against his employers and championing the views of the masses. That, however, would have been a life where Cristiano acted in a manner that Cristiano himself would deem unfit, for during the remainder of the interview he expressed exactly what one would expect him to feel given the start he has had to endure this season, and willingly so.

A cynic would say: “use your current club as a fitness centre, get yourself match-fit and ready for the World Cup and perform on the greatest stage, probably for the last time, and get yourself that shiny way out.” But that person would be oblivious to the stage of grief Cristiano is at right now, for his behaviour from the start of the season leading up to his exit portrays a quintessential Cristiano: unwilling to listen to criticism, and unwilling to embrace the cold, cruel corpus of time.

Denial. The first stage of grief, which is where Cristiano currently finds himself. But what is there to grieve, I hear you ask?

Mortality. That’s what Cristiano is confronting as he nears his 38th birthday. Nobody stays young forever. Cristiano has been duking it out with Father Time for quite a while, and what a bout it has been! But no one beats Father Time, and that’s what he is having to come to terms with. He’s grieving what he once was compared to what he is now.

Is this it, then? Is Cristiano Ronaldo done at the top level of professional football?

Well, not exactly. Rise, after all, is not linear, so why should decline be? Who’s to say Cristiano won’t find at his new club an environment capable of offering him some last hurrahs? Hard, it may be, given that few suitors showed up at his door in the summer when he expressed his wish to leave, but maybe more will take notice now that he is not tethered to a club? Maybe some out there will realise that, despite obviously in decline, Cristiano still has much to offer and has recently struggled with match fitness without a proper pre-season, not unlike Leo Messi did last year at Paris Saint-Germain. Regardless of the noise that comes with him, Cristiano was United’s best player last season and will still back himself to perform, if given a chance. We shall see if someone offers him that chance, and whether Cristiano likes the one offering that to him.


Cristiano’s second stint at Man United exhibited many things. The act of bringing him back demonstrated the club’s reluctance to let go of the past and embrace the present. In that, the Cristiano we saw in the 2020–21 season served as a personification of his team: great in the past, still capable of some hits, but an unequivocal relic of an era gone by. We saw how the self-centred, obstinate personality that made Ronaldo as good as he has been in his career became the very thing that would ruin him in his decline.

When talking of past relics, it’s hard not to invoke Percy Shelley’s ironically timeless Ozymandias. In comparison, much like the eponymous subject of the poem, Cristiano currently finds himself standing in a desert, legs planted firmly and wide as he takes in deep breaths to prepare for one of the biggest challenges of his career yet. Don’t worry, it’s not a freekick; it’s just him trying to accept his current predicament and make himself a viable prospect once again.

Will the winds of glory grace his feet once more? Or are the lonely sands of the desert all that remain to greet Ronaldo on the other side of this chapter?

Anshuman Joshi is a senior writer at SportsKhabri with special focus towards all things football. His other interests include languages, world history and some good fiction.

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