NO MATTER what his teammates say, Cristiano Ronaldo has single-handedly turned Portugal’s World Cup preparations into a shambles.
And there is a feeling that this squad are already one bad result away from self-imploding – and we all know who will be blame.
GettyCristiano Ronaldo’s drama with Manchester United has overshadowed Portugal’s World Cup preparation[/caption]
Fernando Santos’ players should be putting all their energy into making Qatar feel like home for the next month ahead of Thursday’s Group H opener against Ghana.
Instead, thanks to the after-effects of one 90-minute interview from an egotistical, fame-grabbing, shame-lacking 37-year-old, their training base in Al Shahaniya – around 30km north-west of Doha – has quickly been transformed into a circus.
Portugal only landed in the middle east on Friday night, and yesterday’s first press conference became a media-frenzy hours before it was even due to begin.
Their national team press officers were struggling to contain the number of reporters who turned up, with an estimated 50 being denied access due to overcrowding, while the rest of us were forced to sign up in advance. With no other nation is this required.
READ MORE ON THE WORLD CUP
There was a very slim chance Ronaldo would be greeting the media, and everyone wanted a glimpse of the superstar on the verge of being sacked by Manchester United.
Instead, it was Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva, whose mood gradually worsened having to straight bat and defend question after question on Ronaldo, his future, and the impact on the mood and focus of the squad.
On the brink of losing his rag, Silva at one point said: “You only talk about it in press conferences when Portugal has a World Cup to play.
“I don’t understand your persistence on this subject, because there is nothing.”
Most read in Football
Of course, Silva is lying through his back teeth. Their whole tournament is now about Ronaldo, not whether Portugal can add to their 2016 Euros triumph six years on.
Every single player that now goes into a Portugal press conference will know what barrage will be tossed their way, and that in itself is bound to take a lot out of them mentally.
Even their training look to have been impacted. Other nations’ open sessions are usually jovial affairs. Loud music, lots of laughter and banter, before going into some serious drills.
Not Portugal. Around 200 members of media crowded onto an old-school stand by the pitch, waiting patiently before a chorus of camera clicks filled the air.
No smiles, no jokes, no hugs, no friendly embracing. Ronaldo trotted out and barely spoke to anyone for more than a few seconds, deciding to stretch on his lonesome.
He eventually joined in with some passing drills, although it was notable that United teammate Bruno Fernandes – with whom he is rumoured to have had a falling out with – was as far away as possible on the other side of the pitch.
Silva added: “I don’t see any weird environment between Cristiano and Bruno. It’s something that belongs to Cristiano.
“It’s a personal matter and I don’t see a big deal out of it. It has nothing to do with the national team, it’s his issue.
“I’m not a Manchester United player, even if I were I wouldn’t answer.
“We’re in the national team, focused on our games. Not on Cristiano and not on his club.
“It is an issue that has to be resolved with the right person. I see him motivated and focused on the national team like all of us. It’s one more thing to help our country.”
Ronaldo has certainly not helped his country’s chances of lifting the World Cup. If anything, he has put them at risk of bombing in a group they should comfortably be topping.
There is a small possibility that all of this unwanted attention, unnecessary drama, added spice, will spur Ronaldo on even further to drive his beloved Portugal to glory. Unlikely, but it is possible.
For now, the tension within the camp feels like it is close to tipping point. As ever, Ronaldo could be the solution on the pitch, but he also remains the problem off it.