Cristiano Ronaldo says he’s not going anywhere — not yet anyway. The 37-year-old Manchester United forward will be with Portugal in Qatar for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in November but beyond that, he’s also got his sights set on the next European Championship, set to be held in Germany in the summer of 2024.
“It has been a long road, but I would like to say that my road is not over yet,” he said last week. “I still feel motivated and my ambition is high. I want to be part of this World Cup and the European [Championship] too. I’m going to assume that right away.”
By then, Ronaldo will be 39 and at the end of his 22nd season as a top-flight professional. His ability to keep fit and take care of his body is not in question — he’s averaged around 50 games a season for club and country since he was a teenager — but there remains a debate about where his club career will take him next.
He was keen to leave Manchester United in the summer because of a desire to carry on at the very top for as long as possible and find regular Champions League football elsewhere. A move didn’t materialise and, for now, he remains at Old Trafford, but there are question marks over his next move and what his future in football looks like.
Option 1: He leaves Man United in January
Ronaldo’s main gripe in the summer was that Manchester United had not qualified for the Champions League and, as he nears the end of his playing career, he wanted to continue playing in the competition in which he is the all-time top scorer. Flirtations with Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Napoli and Atletico Madrid — to name just a few — came to nothing and he was forced to make his Europa League debut against Real Sociedad earlier this month.
But the issue for Ronaldo now is that, not only is he not playing in the Champions League, he’s not playing regularly at all. He’s started one Premier League game all season and if either Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial are passed fit ahead of the match against Premier League champions Manchester City following the international break, it’s unlikely he will start the derby at the Etihad Stadium on Oct. 2.
A lack of regular football raises the possibility that Ronaldo could look to leave in January. He could, in theory, find a club who have qualified for the knockout rounds of the Champions League and give himself another chance to add to his five titles. However, a January move would rely on United letting him go. Erik ten Hag hasn’t got many options at centre-forward and the club have already distanced themselves from making any significant signings in the next window.
Option 2: He leaves Man United next summer
This is the more natural break and would give Ronaldo the chance to pick a club best placed to give him the chance to score more goals, win more trophies and get him fully prepared for the 2024 Euros.
He signed an initial two-year contract when he returned to Old Trafford from Juventus in 2021, and from January 2023 he can start negotiating with clubs ahead of a possible free transfer at the end of the season.
There was very little market for his services this summer — one of the key reasons why he stayed at United — but that could easily change. Also, if Ronaldo gives up on his hope of playing in the Champions League again, it opens up the possibility of a move away from Europe.
There was strong interest from Saudi Arabia in the summer but sources told ESPN at the time that he wasn’t ready to consider a move to the Middle East, despite being made a lucrative offer.
Option 3: He extends his contract at Old Trafford
Intriguingly, this has never been ruled out by United and ,speaking in the summer, Ten Hag openly admitted it was a possibility. The contract Ronaldo signed in 2021 was for two years plus the option of a third, which would see his deal run until 2024.
United often include options in players’ contracts and with Paul Pogba, for example, they were able to extend his stay by an extra year despite negotiations over a longer deal being at a standstill. The option in Ronaldo’s deal is slightly different in that, according to sources, it would need the player and his representatives to agree before it could be triggered.
Staying at the club for another year seemed a long way off in the summer but sources say it has been noticeable how committed and motivated Ronaldo has been, in training and in games, since the transfer window closed.
If United were to have a good season and, crucially, get back into the Champions League at the first attempt, he might feel Old Trafford is the place for him after all.