Cristiano Ronaldo starts for Portugal in their opening World Cup match – two days after his Manchester United contract was terminated.
Ronaldo has yet to speak publicly since becoming a free agent for the first time in his career, having chosen to skip captain media duties on Wednesday.
But head coach Fernando Santos has not been deterred by the off-field drama surrounding the 37-year-old and has picked him from the start against Ghana this afternoon.
‘This is something that has not even been discussed,’ boss Santos said of Ronaldo on Wednesday, as he became increasingly frustrated by questions focused on his captain. ‘This conversation [about his exit] has not come up at any moment, not even from him.’
On Tuesday, as revealed by Sportsmail, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner kissed goodbye to £16million after he left United with immediate effect.
Ronaldo’s exit has been agreed by mutual consent but Sportsmail can reveal that United have not paid any compensation for the remaining seven months of his £500,000-a-week contract at Old Trafford.
Ronaldo’s exit was announced on Tuesday afternoon after United confirmed the news in a 67-word statement.
Cristiano Ronaldo is staying focused on Portugal’s World Cup campaign after Man United exit
‘Cristiano Ronaldo is to leave Manchester United by mutual agreement, with immediate effect,’ the statement began.
‘The club thanks him for his immense contribution across two spells at Old Trafford, scoring 145 goals in 346 appearances, and wishes him and his family well for the future.
‘Everyone at Manchester United remains focused on continuing the team’s progress under Erik ten Hag and working together to deliver success on the pitch.’
Ronaldo released his own statement following the news, writing: ‘Following conversations with Manchester United, we have mutually agreed to end our contract early.
‘I love Manchester United and I love the fans, that will never ever change. However, it feels like the right time for me to seek a new challenge.
‘I wish the team every success for the remainder of the season and for the future.’
The Portuguese captain took to Instagram to send a message to fans ahead of their World Cup campaign, which kicks off on Thursday against Ghana
Ronaldo’s position at United was untenable as soon as his explosive tell-all interview with Piers Morgan aired on TalkTV.
In it the Portugal star ripped into the lack of evolution at United since he left the first time around in 2009, accused the club of betraying him, said the owners do not care about the club and the fact he does not respect manager Erik ten Hag .
It leaves Ronaldo, who is keen to continue playing at Champions League level for as long as he can, going into the first group game at the World Cup as a free agent looking to impress.
Chelsea has been floated as a potential destination given Blues owner Todd Boehly has long been an admirer of the 37-year-old and attempted to bring him to Stamford Bridge this summer amid his transfer saga at Manchester United.
But a report from The Sun has claimed that Chelsea are now unlikely to play any part in the forward’s future having ‘gone cold’ on the idea.
Man Utd and Ronaldo mutually agreed to end his contract and he will now be a free agent
First and foremost Ronaldo will be keen for Portugal to avoid an opening game upset like that suffered by Lionel Messi’s Argentina against Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
He is yet to win the World Cup as a player and this is his fifth with the national team, and one that will likely be his last.
Ronaldo has scored seven times for his country in 17 World Cup games since making his first appearance at the 2006 finals in Germany.
And coach Santos will be desperate for the circus around his star player to die down and the focus to return to events on the pitch.
He said: ‘We always hear huge noise about things going on and Cristiano being Cristiano it happens.
‘I don’t believe what he has done and decided will have any impact on the Portuguese team.’
The Portugal captain trains with his team-mates ahead of their opening clash with Ghana