Surrounded by doubts about his future at Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo is bringing some unwanted distraction to Portugal ahead of the World Cup.
Ronaldo joined Portugal’s squad on Monday, with just about everyone wondering what he will say about his situation with Real Madrid.
For the second straight year, Ronaldo linking with the national team is being marred by talks about his club. The same thing happened before the Confederations Cup, when a Portuguese daily published a report saying Ronaldo wanted to leave Real Madrid after being accused of tax fraud in Spain.
This time, it was Ronaldo himself who raised doubts about his future, saying moments after the Champions League final that it “was very beautiful” to have played with the Spanish club.
Ronaldo said he would reveal his future plans when he joined the national team, and that time has arrived, putting the spotlight on the star forward and not so much on Portugal’s World Cup preparations.
Ronaldo practiced on Monday but didn’t speak to the media.
“He is very strong mentally,” Portugal midfielder Joao Moutinho said. “This is not going to affect any of our players. We are all focused on what we need to do here with the national team. It’s the only thing that matters.”
Ronaldo joined Portugal later than the other players because of the Champions League final.
The defending European champions have already played two World Cup warmup matches, drawing with Tunisia 2-2 and with Belgium 0-0. The team’s final friendly will be against Algeria on Thursday, when Ronaldo will likely be available to boost the attack.
A five-time world player of the year, Ronaldo has a contract with Madrid until 2021. But he and his agents could be seeking a salary increase in a market that has boomed since Neymar’s record transfer from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain.
Madrid president Florentino Perez has always made Ronaldo a priority, and this time his importance to the club could be even greater after coach Zinedine Zidane decided to quit and with Gareth Bale also possibly on his way out.
Since Ronaldo’s comments after the Champions League final, there have been widespread rumors about him joining PSG or returning to Manchester United.
Last year’s report in Portuguese media said Ronaldo’s decision to leave Madrid was “irreversible,” but he continued with the Spanish club and helped it win a fourth Champions League title in five seasons.
Ronaldo has not hidden his discontentment with the tax fraud accusations in Spain. Last week, not long after he hinted his time with Madrid was over, reports emerged in Spanish media that his offer to make a deal with the country’s tax authorities had been rejected, handing him another disappointing setback.
Ronaldo was accused of defrauding tax authorities of 14.7 million euros ($17.1 million) from 2011-14. Prosecutors accused him of using a shell company in the Virgin Islands to hide the true amount of income made from image rights, among other irregularities, to reduce the amount of tax he paid.
Ronaldo and his agents have denied any wrongdoing. (The Associated Press)