Cristiano Ronaldo left Manchester United’s 1-1 draw with Rayo Vallecano at Old Trafford on Sunday before the end with it being unclear if Erik ten Hag had given the 37-year-old permission to do so.
The striker, who wants to leave the club, had played a first-ever half under the new manager. He missed the previous five pre-season games due to a family issue. At the break Ten Hag replaced the striker with Amad Diallo and he was later photographed outside the stadium before the close of the match. But, when it was put to United if Ronaldo was allowed to do so, the club were unable to offer a clarification.
Ten Hag had earlier asked all of the squad, whether involved or not, to have lunch together and then attend the warm-up game. United had also played on Saturday — the 1-0 loss to Atlético Madrid in Oslo — the team landing back in Manchester at 8am on Sunday. A group of players who included Diogo Dalot, Marcus Rashford, Brandon Williams, Anthony Elanga and Tyrell Malacia were seated in the directors’ box during the match with other non-playing squad members understood to be elsewhere in Old Trafford.
While Dalot was also in a photograph of Ronaldo leaving early, whether the latter will face any disciplinary action from Ten Hag is unclear. As the manager had not scheduled a post-game conference afterwards the media were unable to ask. But the player may not also have pleased the 52-year-old with his “on Sunday the king plays” comment on Instagram on Friday. As this either revealed sensitive selection news or was presumptive on Ronaldo’s part, Ten Hag may be dismayed at the effect on discipline and team spirit.
The Dutch man did offer analysis to MUTV of the actual performance and a pre-season that ends with three wins, two draws and a loss, as United prepare to host Brighton in Sunday’s 2022-3 curtain-raiser.
“Overall, I am happy, we made a good pre-season,” said Ten Hag. “We make good progress and we’re ready for the season but still I know there is a lot of room for improvement and we have to improve.”
Of his first game in charge at Old Trafford, Ten Hag said: “The reception was fantastic. I felt the vibe in the stadium, I felt the vibe they want to send to the team. There has to be co-operation between fans and the team so we get the right emotion and, especially, the right results.”
In what was an XI of second-string players — of the ilk of Donny van de Beek, Tahith Chong and Alejandro Garnacho — and prospective regulars, with Christian Eriksen given a first start and Lisandro Martínez a debut, Ronaldo’s first contributions were a rolled pass to the Dane in a flowing move and the miss of an easy chance with Stole Dimitrievski’s goal gaping.
Before this Rayo Vallecano, who finished 12th in La Liga last term, went close to scoring seconds after kick-off. A United rearguard featuring the captain, Raphaël Varane, slumbered as Álvaro García raced into the area, his shot moving Tom Heaton to save sharply.
United, in blazing sunshine, were better when roving forward. Ronaldo, dropping deep as Ten Hag would like, drilled the ball along a left corridor to Van de Beek whose instant cross towards the impressive Garnacho was a nice idea poorly executed.
As half-time neared there appeared a mild contretemps between Ten Hag and Ronaldo during a break in play: the manager seemed to be addressing some positional deficiency at which the player shrugged. In a period that petered out this was the last noteworthy sighting of Ronaldo as Ten Hag swapped him for Diallo for the second half. The youngster had an instant impact, scoring from the rebound following an Alex Telles 20-yard effort.
But in what was the poorest of United’s six summer friendly outings the Spaniards equalised, Garcia turning the ball in