Dwight Yorke said he knew Cristiano Ronaldo's situation at Manchester Untied was a "ticking time bomb ready to explode" having spoken in-depth with the Portuguese forward months before his acrimonious exit from the Premier League club.
Ronaldo had his United contract mutually terminated last November following a controversial television interview in which he criticised the club's owners and said he lacked respect for manager Erik ten Hag, who was appointed last summer.
The 37-year-old superstar has since signed a two-year contract with Al Nassr and was unveiled at the Saudi club this week to huge fanfare and worldwide publicity.
Yorke, who won three Premier League titles with United and was a key part of 1999 treble-winning side, spent time at United last summer ahead of taking up his current position as manager of Australian side Macarthur FC.
The former Trinidad and Tobago international revealed to The National that during his visit, Ronaldo shared with him his frustrations.
“I don’t comment often on Manchester United because I’m still a global ambassador and have a fantastic relationship with the club. But what Cristiano has done, to me, is not a surprise," Yorke said.
"I had a one-to-one conversation with him before I came to Australia, when I went on a 10-day observation at Manchester United and had access behind the scenes.
"I was lucky that Ronaldo gave me 30 minutes of his time and we talked in depth. I knew that there was an individual there that wasn’t happy with whatever was going on at the club. He expressed that in a very open and honest way to me. He was clearly unhappy.
"He felt that the club wasn’t progressing the way he wanted it to and he demanded certain things from the incoming manager. I felt that if that wasn’t to happen, then there was going to be something that we eventually saw happen. So when all of that came out, I knew it was already a ticking time bomb just ready to explode."
Ronaldo returned to United in the summer of 2021, 12 years after leaving the club in a then world record transfer to Real Madrid. The Portuguese forward enjoyed an individually successful first season back at Old Trafford, scoring 24 goals in all competitions, but the club's failure to qualify for the Champions League led to reports Ronaldo was seeking to leave the club.
Ronaldo ultimately remained, with manager Ten Hag insisting the five-time Ballon d'Or winner was an important part of his plans, although he was limited to five Premier League starts and was used primarily in the Europa League, prior to his contract termination.
Ronaldo's fallout with United and the manner of his exit led to some criticism, with a section of the fans and media claiming his actions could have had a destabilising impact on the club.
However, despite the bitter end to his second spell, Yorke said Ronaldo's actions should not be mistaken for a person who does not care about United, and that a refusal to make him captain could have been a major reason behind his dissatisfaction.
"I know that there was someone who is really passionate and really loves Manchester United, and wanted to take Manchester United back to the top," Yorke said. "But he clearly felt that the only way he could help the club get anywhere near that, I think he needed to be the leader.
"And I think, with Harry Maguire not being fully in the fold, I felt that Ronaldo didn’t think that was the right call; that he felt he should have led. Being the top scorer, he felt he didn’t get enough respect, because without him last year, United would have been nowhere near.
"I think he feels he doesn’t get enough credit, that there’s a lot of criticism coming his way; the way he went about things with the Piers Morgan interview and speaking openly about it. But I think he got to the point where he had enough. He saw that the club was not heading in the direction he wanted it to. He wanted to lead and wasn’t given that opportunity, so it just boiled over."
Ronaldo will soon open a new chapter of his historic career, and given his profile as one of the most famous and successful athletes of his generation, will be expected to raise football's status in Saudi Arabia and around the region, which Yorke can see already happening.
"Ronaldo can have a knock-on effect because he’s there doing his work in Saudi. Unlike the golfers who are there for a few days, Ronaldo is living and working in Saudi trying to continue his legacy, to improve football in that region," Yorke said.
"It’s already had an effect because everyone is talking about Saudi. Saudi football is now on the world map because of Ronaldo. He will certainly create his own legacy there and continue to be successful because he will focus on his football."
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