Cristiano Ronaldo is the greatest goalscorer in the history of men’s international football, but his future with the Portugal national team remains unclear after the recent World Cup
If it wasn’t clear already, the World Cup in Qatar effectively marked the end of the greatest rivalry in recent footballing history.
Lionel Messi spent his final night in the Gulf State cuddling the most famous trophy on Earth, having finally realised a life-long ambition. Meanwhile, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Qatar curtain call came eight days earlier, when he left the field in tears following Portugal’s exit at the hands of Morocco.
In truth, the dye had been cast before that round-of-16 defeat, with Ronaldo – at the time without a club – relegated to the bench by Fernando Santos. There was no such temptation for Lionel Scaloni, with Messi almost single-handedly driving Argentina to the latter stages of the tournament.
And once their title was confirmed, another was almost certainly assured: ‘The Greatest Footballer of All Time’. That moniker will still be heavily debated, but what can’t be argued is that in the year of 2022, Messi was best.
On Monday, footballing royalty descended on Paris for the FIFA Best Awards, with Messi unsurprisingly scooping the gong for Best Men’s Player. But while the Argentine was number one, his old foe couldn’t even make the 14-man shortlist.
Rather than attend the glitzy gig, Ronaldo remained in Saudi Arabia, where the twilight of his career will be played out to hundreds of fans on YouTube. Almost exactly 24 hours before Messi’s coronation, Ronaldo was spotted watching the ‘fight’ between Tommy Fury and Jake Paul, another sporting charade in a country full of them.
But although he was thousands of miles away, a piece of news regarding the 38-year-old still emerged. It came hidden in the voting for the award Messi ultimately won. International coaches and captains all made their selections, but the Portugal skipper’s name was notable by its absence.
Instead, the vote from Lisbon and beyond came from that noted shrinking flower, Pepe. That seems to suggest that without confirmation, the former Manchester United star has silently given up the captain’s armband.
It now remains to be seen whether he will play international football at all. He has yet to commit one way or another, with the journeys from Riyadh to Portugal significantly more gruelling than a Manchester-Lisbon flight.
Speaking in the hours after their emotional elimination, Ronaldo seemed to talk about his time with the Selecao in the past tense, hinting his time with the country was to end with a record-breaking 196 appearances and 118 goals.
“Winning a World Cup for Portugal was the biggest and most ambitious dream of my career,” he posted on Instagram back in December. “Fortunately I won many titles of international dimension, including Portugal, but putting our country’s name on the highest foot in the World was my biggest dream.
“I fought for it. I fought hard for this dream. In the 5 appearances I scored in World Cups over 16 years, always by the side of great players and supported by millions of Portuguese, I gave my all. Leave it all out on the field. I never turned my face to the fight and I never gave up on that dream.
Ronaldo has yet to confirm whether he will continue to play for the national team
“Sadly yesterday the dream ended. It’s not worth reacting to heat. I just want you all to know that much has been said, much has been written, much has been speculated, but my dedication to Portugal hasn’t changed for a moment.
I was always one fighting for the objective of all and I would never turn my back on my colleagues and my country.