Gary Neville says Cristiano Ronaldo was LET DOWN by Fernando Santos because Portugal ‘didn’t play to his strengths’ during the World Cup… as he admits he felt sorry for his ex-Man United team-mate as he walked off in tears after shock Morocco loss
Ronaldo exited football’s biggest stage in tears after Portugal were stunned by Morocco in the quarter-finals, having been dropped from the starting line-up in the two knockout games.
The 37-year-old had managed just one goal in three starts during the group stages in Qatar and reacted angrily when Santos substituted him off early in the defeat to South Korea.
Cristiano Ronaldo exited the World Cup stage in tears after Portugal were beaten by Morocco
Gary Neville believes coach Fernando Santos (right) didn’t play to Ronaldo’s main strengths
That led to Ronaldo, whose Manchester United contract was terminated last month to leave him searching for a new club, benched for the last-16 game with Switzerland.
To compound matters, his replacement in attack, the 21-year-old Benfica player Goncalo Ramos, scored a hat-trick in a 6-1 win.
Ramos kept his place for the quarter-final against Morocco but Santos threw on Ronaldo in the 51st-minute in an unsuccessful attempt to reverse a 1-0 deficit.
That led to Santos, 68, being sacked after eight years at the helm which included Portugal’s Euro 2016 triumph.
Speaking to Sky Sports, Neville contrasted the situation with Ronaldo and Portugal to that of finalists Argentina and their talisman Lionel Messi.
Ronaldo was dropped to the Portugal bench by Santos for the two knockout games
Gary Neville believes Ronaldo has every right to feel let down by Santos and Portugal
‘Messi has been managed by Argentina in terms of how the rest of the group have come around him, and they completely play to his strengths,’ he said.
‘Whereas with Portugal and with Santos having known Cristiano for so long, I thought he’d have done the same.
‘It feels to me like something has happened within the tournament that’s meant the plan has changed and Santos has thought, “I need to leave you out.”
‘But once you leave Cristiano out, it’s not just leaving another player out. It becomes a global story.
Santos has since been sacked as Portugal’s coach after their disappointing last eight exit
‘I actually felt sorry for Cristiano in the end, when he was walking down that tunnel in tears. That’s never a good image.
‘You know he’s thinking, “this is it, I’m never going to play in this tournament again.”
‘I wouldn’t class it as an underachievement from Ronaldo, I’d say it’s an overachievement that he’s doing what he’s doing at the age of 37, it’s just the way it ended with him being out of the team.’
Cristiano Ronaldo has left Spain after two days training with former club Real Madrid
Ronaldo cemented his legacy as one of the greats during his time at Real Madrid
He has been a free agent since mutually terminating his United contract following his explosive interview with Piers Morgan in which he accused the club of ‘betraying’ him.
One interested party in Ronaldo’s services is reportedly Antero Henrique, head of the Qatar Stars League.
Henrique is said to have gone straight to Ronaldo – above his agent Jorge Mendes – to express an interest in bringing him back to the gulf nation following the World Cup.
He is hoping Ronaldo will join a Qatari club but Mendes is working on a different proposal it has been claimed.
There had also been reports that Ronaldo could join Saudi Arabian side Al Nassr on January 1.
But sources close to Ronaldo told Sportsmail reports of a deal being complete were ‘nonsense’.