Erik ten Hag looked to move past the controversy surrounding Cristiano Ronaldo’s early departure from a pre-season friendly as the Dutchman prepares for his first Premier League game as Manchester United manager.
Ronaldo was one of several United players who left Old Trafford early during last weekend’s 1-1 friendly draw with Rayo Vallecano.
Ten Hag gave an interview on Dutch television during the week and called such actions “unacceptable”.
While he was talking broadly about all players who went home early, the focus of those quotes in the media was on Ronaldo.
The Portugal star’s relationship with United has been a constant sideshow during pre-season, as he did not go on their tour of Australia and Thailand owing to personal reasons, though at the time there was frequent speculation suggesting he wanted to leave for a Champions League club.
No such move has materialised and he played the first 45 minutes against Rayo, his only action of pre-season, with Ronaldo unsurprisingly the centre of attention during Ten Hag’s first Premier League pre-match news conference on Friday.
“Now I have to point. Those who left early, there were many,” Ten Hag said when asked about his criticism of the players. “But the spotlight is on Ronaldo, and that’s not right.
“He was part of it, but again it was a lot of players. So do you research and make [it clear that] many players left.”
Pressed by a reporter on whether he was happy that Ronaldo was content at the club, the somewhat prickly Ten Hag replied: “I’m really happy, I told you before. We have a top striker, I’m happy he’s here. He’s in the squad and we stick to the plan.”
“Our aim is to win every game, this is what Manchester United stands for,” Erik adds.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) August 5, 2022
Ten Hag was subsequently asked what measures could be implemented to ensure players do not take liberties in future, though he appeared to confirm none of those guilty on this occasion were facing disciplinary action.
“I think we said enough of it. I said it’s not correct, clear. You mention it, correct them, and then move on,” he said.
“I think I am satisfied with the whole team, they’re working well, it’s a good culture. And also Ronaldo, he’s working really hard.”
Ronaldo seemingly has a strong chance of starting in Sunday’s visit of Brighton and Hove Albion, with their only other recognised senior striker – Anthony Martial – sustaining a hamstring injury against Atletico Madrid last Saturday.
The Frenchman, who endured a disappointing loan spell at Sevilla in the second half of last season, had looked sharp in pre-season but now appears set to begin the campaign on the sidelines.
“It’s always difficult to say [how long he will be out for] with these injuries, I hope not too long,” Ten Hag said.