On the eve of his fifth World Cup, Cristiano Ronaldo demanded more respect. That he chose to say so in an embittered television interview, while telling his Manchester United manager, Erik ten Hag he had no respect for the Dutchman has led to the abrupt severing of his contract with the club.
Ronaldo would like greater respect from younger professionals, too, it seems. He was visibly angered when Osman Bukari, the Ghana forward, having narrowed the gap late on in Portugal’s 3-2 Group H win, marked the goal with an imitation of Ronaldo’s ‘Siuuu’ celebration.
From the bench, where Ronaldo, who had opened the scoring, sat out the tense last minutes, the Portugal captain gestured his irritation.
Respect given — and returned — is at least guaranteed to CR7 on Monday evening from the defender who will be marshalling him closest as the Portuguese, seeking the victory that would put them through to the knockout phase, meet Uruguay at the Lusail Stadium.
A timeless duel, a nostalgia journey into the peak period of Ronaldo’s career, will be re-run, probably for the last time, when he confronts the Uruguay skipper Diego Godin.
They are 37 and 36 years old. By the end of the night, they will have accumulated a total of almost 48 hours of their lives in direct opposition, a classic series of jousts played in various colours of jersey but always ending with both bruised black and blue.
You can narrate the saga of their rivalry by its collisions. After one of their seismic meetings, a Spanish Super Cup in 2014, Ronaldo, then of Real Madrid, appeared to throw a punch at Godin, then of Atletico Madrid; he was deemed lucky to escape sanction.
That was one incident of many during a sequence when almost nothing in domestic Madrid derbies was more predictable than Godin collecting at least a yellow card. Well, almost nothing: A Ronaldo goal or three was mostly to be expected.
In the course of 33 matches playing against Ronaldo, Godin has been a close, uncomfortable witness to no fewer than five CR7 hat-tricks.
Godin, like Ronaldo, spent nine years in Madrid and contested two Champions League finals for Atletico against Ronaldo’s Real. They bumped up against each other in Italy, Godin playing for Inter Milan and Cagliari against the Juventus of Ronaldo.
Monday will be meeting number 34 between two driven footballers now a little less mobile than they were when they first crossed paths, as a young United tearaway and a promising Villarreal defender, in 2008.
It was then, as he later told Gazzetta dello Sport, that Godin first learnt that “marking Ronaldo is mostly about concentration, more than technique. You cannot let him out of your sight for a second. That’s all he needs to score.”
Ronaldo needed a penalty, awarded for a contested foul on the Portuguese himself by Ghana’s Mohamed Salisu, to reach the milestone of a fifth successive World Cup tournament with his name on the scoresheet, and, after four goals were then shared in the last 25 minutes, to put Portugal top of the group.
Uruguay, who drew 0-0 with South Korea, are yet to get off the mark, nobody closer to doing so than Godin, who struck the post.
He has not lost his knack of mastering set-pieces, and his showing against the Koreans muffled some of the doubts about his capacity, after a year struggling to gain minutes on the pitch for Cagliari and then Brazil’s Atletico Mineiro, to maintain his high standards as a man-marker and leader at a World Cup.
Godin, who joined Velez Sarsfeld of Argentina in the summer, has had a sobering 12 months. He would be well placed to advise Ronaldo, now looking for a new club, on the challenges of finding the right place to eke out the tail-end of a distinguished career.
But Uruguay’s coaches trust and respect their veterans. Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, both 35, should both get some opportunity to try to roll back the years to the last World Cup, in Russia.
There, Cavani’s two goals against Portugal eliminated Ronaldo and his compatriots at the last 16 stage, the Uruguayan limping off later with an injury that ruled him out of the quarter-final against eventual champions France.
Cavani would bounce back, with Paris Saint-Germain, and then with United, where he spent two seasons as expert veteran until Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford eclipsed him in that role.
So keen was Ronaldo to establish his pre-eminence in the hierarchy that Cavani felt obliged to give up the United number seven shirt to the returning superstar.
It was a gesture described by the then United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with studied emphasis on Ronaldo’s magic word: Respect. “To pass up his shirt shows the respect he’s got for Cristiano,” said Solskjaer, “and respect the other way.”
Respect there may be towards Portugal’s respect-seeking captain — from Cavani, from Suarez, and from his old combatant Godin. But come kick-off, there will be no Uruguayan rolling out a red carpet for CR7.