As the dust settles at Old Trafford after the first shockwaves of Cristiano Ronaldo’s highly critical interview, club executives have been exploring their options for the next step in resolving an increasingly toxic situation.
On the day the first installment of the Talk TV interview with presenter Piers Morgan airs, Manchester United owners the Glazer family, chief executive Richard Arnold and director of football John Murtough, along with manager Erik ten Hag, will conversation with their lawyers. while they wait to see the full extent of the player’s comments over the next 24 hours.
So far, in excerpts also published by the Sun newspaper and videos viewed more than 11 million times on social media, Ronaldo has accused his employers of betrayal and disrespect, slamming Ten Hag and the club’s hierarchy. Here’s what we know so far.
But what options are available to the club? How can they go about making a constructive step forward in the wake of the 37-year-old superstar’s embarrassment?
What is the biggest consideration for United based on what they know?
The most important thing for United is to establish the extent to which Ronaldo is breaching his contract by his comments and what they are then able to do as a result.
All top players sign a Premier League service contract with their clubs.
Under that agreement, they are bound to “obey and act in accordance with all lawful instructions of any authorized officer of the club” and are not allowed to “write or say anything which may bring the club … into disrepute bring … or cause damage to the club”.
Jamie Singer, a partner at sports law specialists Onside Law, believes Ronaldo may have already breached his standard contract.
“In terms of the contract, there is a specific provision that talks about not saying anything that brings the club into disrepute or damages the club’s reputation,” he says. “The content of the interview immediately puts him at odds.
“The standard provisions also cover, where possible, informing the club about interviews you do in advance. He could have informed the club, so I would think it was probably another offence.”
United are understood to have been made aware of the interview by Ronaldo’s camp on Sunday, shortly before Morgan’s first tweet to publish it, so whether it qualifies as reasonable advance notice could be open to interpretation.
“As I understand it, the standard contract does not prohibit players from conducting interviews,” adds Singer. “But it obliges them to try to help the club by telling them in advance that they are doing it and making sure they are signed up.”
In this case, Ronaldo is no different from any of his teammates, or players at the Premier League’s 19 other clubs.
“It’s a standard Premier League contract that every Manchester United player will have signed and every club is obliged to use,” says Singer. “He (Ronaldo) will have signed those terms.
“It includes implied terms about trust, loyalty and obedience to reasonable instructions.
“There can be little doubt that what he has done puts him in breach of the standard contract. From what I’ve seen, to accuse the club of treason, not fulfilling obligations, it’s quite easy to say he brought the club into disrepute and harmed the interests of the club.”
What could happen if United decide Ronaldo has breached his contract?
Eventually, the club could terminate the Portuguese’s deal.
Having initially re-joined United in August 2021 on a two-year deal with an option for an extra year, his current terms were due to expire in August 2023 – assuming an extra year was not agreed.
However, if United’s hierarchy feel that the player staying at the club is impossible and want to try to get rid of him, even in the face of appeals or further damaging publicity, there is a process they can follow.
“If he’s in breach of contract, that’s one thing,” Singer adds. “But if it’s such a fundamental breach of contract that it can lead to termination, that’s another level.
“You can’t pre-judge from a few clips and out-of-context snippets, so it makes sense that United and their legal team know exactly what’s being said and then make a judgment call.”
United would be best advised to follow the established process as they would with any potential breach of contract, and consider all their options.
“There is a disciplinary process and if someone breaches the contract by doing something they shouldn’t have done, the club has the leeway to fine the player and impose a penalty,” explains Singer.
One high-profile precedent is former United forward Romelu Lukaku.
The striker gave an explosive interview to Sky Italia last season, lambasting Chelsea’s behavior when he is not playing regularly. Then-Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel said Lukaku would face “some disciplinary action” for the interview, but unlike Ronaldo, this was a player who had been signed for £90m a few months earlier .
Lukaku, who also apologized for his interview, is now back on a season-long loan at Inter Milan, the club he left for Chelsea.
“If it’s serious or the player disagrees, you go to the disciplinary procedure where the player has the opportunity to defend themselves,” says Singer. “The club will say what it is they think he did wrong, he can argue he doesn’t think he did anything wrong and then it goes up to the board of the club to decide what the punishment should be or if there’ a punishment is with everyone.
“In this situation it will be an internal hearing and possibly come to a situation where he has committed gross misconduct and they can terminate the contract.
“Or if they believe there are so many, they can cut it short and say they don’t need a disciplinary process. They might argue that it is so clear and obvious that it is gross misconduct that they would go straight for termination with 14 days notice.”
Are there any examples of players having their contracts terminated?
In August 2011, Hull City terminated the contract of record signing Jimmy Bullard following an incident on a pre-season trip to Slovenia.
Bullard had a lucrative deal until the end of the 2012-13 season and this led to a legal dispute between him and the club. The former midfielder was eventually reported to have accepted a settlement and both parties signed confidentiality agreements.
In 2014, Nicolas Anelka was sacked by West Bromwich Albion for gross misconduct. Anelka – who was handed a five-match ban and an £80,000 fine by the Football Association for the quenelle gesture he made at West Ham – announced via Twitter that he was terminating his playing contract, which had three and a half months to run.
The club suspended the Frenchman on full pay following the FA’s ruling and intended to complete their own investigation. West Brom initially said his Twitter statement was “highly unprofessional”.
Three hours later, the club revealed they had written to Anelka and given him 14 days’ notice of termination as required in his contract. They said Anelka had failed to apologize for “the impact and consequences of his (quenelle) gesture” or accept a substantial fine, leading to his suspension being lifted.
Singer believes United would be best advised to go through the full process, however angry they may feel about the interview.
“The safer route is to go through the process of a disciplinary hearing, we will explain it and you can defend yourself,” he says. “Then we decide on the sanction.
“If they do find him guilty of gross misconduct, which is very rare, the player can still appeal to the Premier League. What makes this unusual is that the value of a player’s registration is typically so significant. It is unusual for a club to terminate the contract of a player’s registration due to the value of his registration.
“But here they pay him however many hundreds of thousands a week and they won’t be able to sell him for a big transfer fee. It changes the dynamic quite a lot.
“To save themselves £400,000 a week it might be worth going down that route. There’s enough infectious stuff in what we’ve seen that it probably warrants gross misconduct.
“They will probably want to go through a disciplinary process to protect themselves from any claims that it was not a proper and fair process. Because they know that Ronaldo is likely to challenge them, they then have another layer of protection.”
So what could be the ultimate outcome?
Despite the possibility of tearing up his contract, United may choose to do things amicably and quietly.
Along with criticizing the facilities at United’s training ground and a series of other damaging observations about its culture, Ronaldo accused the club of showing a lack of “empathy” when his young daughter was hospitalized in July .
Simon Leaf, head of sport at law firm Mishcon de Reya, believes settling the matter privately may be the best way for the club to limit further embarrassment.
“The club is caught between a rock and a hard place,” he says. “(A) Termination rights are subject to Ronaldo’s right to appeal – particularly as he appears to suggest that United is breaching its own duties to take reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of its employees, which could extend to allowing Ronaldo . leave in such difficult circumstances.
“There is no easy answer to this particular legal wrangle, and from experience one suspects that given the sums involved in terms of wages and a possible transfer fee that could be waived, both Ronaldo and the club will now seek to resolve the issue too loose issues as amicably as possible in private with a view to both parties saving face.”
(Top photo: Dan Mullan/Getty Images)