Should Portugal drop Ronaldo? Plus: Ten Hag extends deal, United to cut 250 jobs

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How do you solve a problem like Cristiano Ronaldo?

Plus: Manchester United extend Erik ten Hag’s contract until 2026 but are cutting 250 jobs at the club. We explain it all.

Euros Zone: Ronaldo – better on the bench?

He’s not scoring goals. He’s not touching the ball very often. He’s not progressing Portugal’s attacks. He’s leaping like a salmon, only to find crosses landing in a different river. And he’s not having fun.

To sum up, of Cristiano Ronaldo’s six European Championships, this summer’s might go down as the one he savoured least. Portugal are back at it tomorrow, with a quarter-final against France, and the only discussion in town is whether Roberto Martinez can summon the nerve to drop Ronaldo. The Portugal coach has the tactical justification he needs. But does he have the backbone?

To an extent, the Ronaldo question is moot. Martinez isn’t going to leave him out. You know it and I know it. But Tim Spiers has made the argument today for why Ronaldo, despite his bloody-minded ambition, is a detrimental presence in the Portuguese line-up and the evidence is compelling.

His pursuit of personal glory (Ronaldo’s, not Tim’s) is somewhat out of hand. CR7 up front is keeping out Goncalo Ramos (Paris Saint-Germain) and Diogo Jota (Liverpool), two forwards who have been scoring goals at a higher level than the Saudi Pro League. It’s not like Martinez is wedded to a Ronaldo-centric formation either. To look at this graphic, few international coaches can have fiddled with their formation more:

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I find the contrast between Ronaldo and Lionel Messi striking. Both are fighting the dying of the light, but Messi seems happy in his skin, philosophical about the fact football is not forever. Ronaldo looks like he resents the wrinkles; as if diminishing returns are a personal slight.

An intervention is called for. But does Martinez have it in him?


Going back to 1934, Spain possess a horrendous record against the hosts of major tournaments. In nine attempts, they’ve never beaten one. And it’s Germany for them in the last eight.

TAFC is big on this Spanish side. There’s a lot to admire about them, particularly Nico Williams and Lamine Yamal out wide. But here’s an alternative take on their squad, written by Jacob Whitehead: noting how little the coach Luis de la Fuente is served by the country’s most powerful club, Real Madrid.

Jacob makes the point that Real are everywhere at Euro 2024, in the form of Jude Bellingham, Toni Kroos, Aurelien Tchouameni, Kylian Mbappe, Arda Guler and others. In fact, it goes further than that. Swing over to the Copa America and you’ll find Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo and Federico Valverde. The Bernabeu is supremely stacked.

It’s not that Real serve up nothing for Spain — Dani Carvajal is in Germany — but if their fingerprints are on these trophies in a week or so, it won’t be De la Fuente writing to thank them.

Take a chance, France!

I can never quite tell if the French like manager Didier Deschamps. He’s got shades of Gareth Southgate about him — boasting an extremely good record but derided in certain quarters as risk-averse.

At these Euros, it would help if France could work out where the net was. They’re performing below their expected goals (xG) ratio. They’ve taken one of 10 big chances, a penalty from Mbappe (who cannot be excused from missing out either, see below). France haven’t scored once from open play. Genuinely. TheAthleticFC 9c50a9 video to gif converter

Those are the sort of statistics that cost a national team its head. But they also suggest France could easily step it up. Knowing Deschamps’ knack for going deep into tournaments, my glass would be half full.

News round-up

Ten Hag signs new deal but United set to cut 250 jobs

It’s been a drama getting there but Manchester United have extended Erik ten Hag’s contract to 2026.

The new deal comes after INEOS, which is running the sporting side at Old Trafford, spoke to other coaches — including Thomas Tuchel and Roberto De Zerbi — in a review of the position, before ultimately keeping faith in Ten Hag.

Dan Ashworth, their new sporting director, says the review ‘highlighted areas for improvement’. Ten Hag, as part of today’s announcement, says he and INEOS have “found complete unity in our vision’. Time will tell.

But while it’s good news for the 54-year-old, it’s distressing times for others at the club. Since INEOS became a minority shareholder the threat of cost-cutting has been transparent and it was crystallised yesterday by United informing staff lower down the food chain that 250 redundancies are coming.

That’s a severe cull — somewhere in the region of a 30 per cent reduction.

INEOS says it has to trim the fat to make the first team more successful. And the numbers show United employ more people than any Premier League side; twice as many, roughly, as Manchester City (although as Dan Sheldon points out in this explainer, the City Football Group gives City more scope to pool resources).

That said, it’s never easy to square businesses which rake in so much money using the rank and file to strengthen the bottom line. United’s latest shirt deal? It’s worth $75m (£59m) a year. Hard times.

Copa Corner: Gloves are off for Martinez

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Eric Verhoeven/Soccrates/Getty Images

A quirk of the Copa America is that in all stages of the knockouts before the final, there’s no extra time. It’s straight to penalties. Which means Emi Martinez is in his element.

You have to pick a side with Martinez. There’s no fence-sitting on the subject of his s***housing and I must confess, I’m an Emi evangelist. Trolling with the Golden Glove in Qatar (that photo will never not be funny), dancing after coming out on top in shootouts, approaching penalty takers to say “watch me eat you up, brother”; if the Aston Villa goalkeeper plays for your club or your country, he’s an instant cult hero.

He’s damn good at reading penalties, too, and much as Argentina might not need that safety net to retain their Copa crown, he’ll be dying for the spotlight to come his way. He’s already predicted Argentina will win every game in the States. God love him.

Messi: why risk him?

Lionel Scaloni isn’t giving too much away about Lionel Messi’s fitness. We’re not certain if he’ll start against Ecuador tonight or if his tight hamstring will hold him back.

Common sense says Scaloni won’t take a risk with him. Argentina should have the beating of Ecuador regardless. The draw is such that barring a monumental upset, the final is where the Copa gets tasty for them.

📺 (Times ET/UK) Quarter-final: Argentina vs Ecuador (9pm/2am) — Fox, Fubo, Premier Sports 1

USMNT: ranked

With the group stage complete, we’ve ranked the performance of all 16 Copa contenders. I’m pleased to see Uruguay in first place and not just because of my Marcelo Bielsa fetish. I’d have put Colombia and James Rodriguez in second, ahead of Argentina, but I’m splitting hairs.

Down in 10th, we’ve got the poor old USMNT. And behind them, Mexico. It took this graphic to make me realise how woeful the Mexicans were in front of goal. Find a striker, pronto.

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Ask me (almost) anything

TAFC reader George Ronczy got in touch after we called England’s Harry Kane ‘He Who Will Not Be Dropped’.

“I don’t think you drop Kane,” George wrote. “If I were Gareth Southgate’s tactical advisor, I’d have him start Ivan Toney for Phil Foden and tell Bukayo Saka to do more one-versus-one attacking.”

His point is that Kane is not an out-and-out No 9 and having Toney as a full-on centre-forward would give England more bite. It could work if, as our writers suggested yesterday, Southgate switches to a three-man defence.

As for Saka, Art de Roche, who watches Arsenal pretty much every day of the year, even at Christmas, has made some suggestions to get the best out of him. We’re all reaching for answers a bit. So is England’s coach and so are their players. No wonder we’re seeing a siege mentality develop around them.

🎥  If you missed The Athletic FC’s live stream on England and how they can improve, then you can watch it here.

(Photo: Gokhan Balci/Anadolu via Getty Images)

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