Portugal manager Fernando Santos has strongly criticised Cristiano Ronaldo over his angry reaction after being substituted against South Korea and there is now major doubt over whether he will start against Switzerland.
Ronaldo was seen talking and gesturing when he came off the pitch in Portugal’s final group game and, although both player and manager said immediately after the match that it was being directed at a South Korean opponent, Santos confirmed on Monday that he had since reviewed the footage.
“I saw the images - I didn’t like it,” said Santos. “Not at all. I really didn’t like it.”
It is highly unusual for Santos, who has been Portugal manager since 2014, to speak critically of Ronaldo and he also refused to confirm whether his captain would start in the last 16 tie against Switzerland.
Ronaldo has started all three of Portugal’s matches so far, scoring once with a controversial penalty, but has been brought off progressing earlier in each game, culminating with his 65th minute substitution following a flat performance against South Korea.
Santos repeated that he had heard Ronaldo speaking to a South Korean player when he came off but stressed that he could not hear everything that had been said. Ronaldo himself had denied aiming his anger at Santos, saying that, “the Korean player was telling me to leave quickly and I told him to shut up because he has no authority … there was no disagreement [with Santos]”. Reports in the Portuguese media, however, have suggested that frustration was being vented at the manager.
“When the game was over, I went to the flash and then went to the conference. I repeat: on the field, I didn't hear anything, he was very far away and I only heard him arguing with the Korean player,” said Santos.
“These matters are resolved at home and, from there, it's thinking about tomorrow's game [against Switzerland], for which everyone is focused.”
Asked if he continued to trust his captain to start against Switzerland, Santos said: “I only give the team to the players at the stadium - that is what I have always done and what I always do. Otherwise, the matter is over, it's resolved at home and everyone is available."
Defender Ruben Dias then appealed to Portuguese journalists to “create unity … instead of creating a divide” and said that they should direct questions at Ronaldo himself.
Ronaldo, though, did not appear at the pre-match press conference following fresh reports in the Spanish media that he has now agreed a £150 million annual deal to sign for the Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr FC in January. The Telegraph reported last week that Ronaldo has received proposals from Al-Nassr to play in Saudi Arabia’s Pro League.
“I haven't spoken to him about this,” said Santos. “I didn’t even know about that - just heard about this when I arrived here a few moments ago. That’s his decision - what he has to deal with. We are totally focussed on the World Cup. I didn't know anything about this other issue.” Portugal face Switzerland at the Lusail Stadium on Tuesday evening for a place in the World Cup quarter-finals.
Ronaldo’s penalty in the opening World Cup match against Ghana meant that he became the first player to score in five World Cups but he then tried to claim another goal against Uruguay even though replays showed that it had not touched his head.