Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag said Wednesday that Cristiano Ronaldo is "pissed off" when he doesn't play but denied having any wider issues with the Portuguese star.
"I don't bring him on out of respect, it's nothing to do with what's happening for the future or January or next year," Ten Hag told reporters. "I don't see he's unhappy, he's happy, he's training well, he's enjoying it. Everyone is training well, there's a good spirit.
"He's not happy that he wasn't playing on Sunday, but that wasn't the question. The question was about his mood when he's around and he's happy. Of course, he wants to play, he's pissed off when he's not playing."
Ronaldo was notable by his absence in United's recent 6-3 defeat to Manchester City, with Ten Hag omitting him from the starting lineup and then not electing to use him off the bench.
Addressing the situation after the match, Ten Hag said he didn't insert Ronaldo into the contest "out of respect for his big career." The comment came off as a bit patronizing and might have done more harm than good, even if the manager's decision was justified.
This all comes against the backdrop of a reunion that has turned sour.
Ronaldo reportedly pushed to leave Manchester United in the summer, only one season after he returned to Old Trafford. The failure of a transfer to materialize is a reflection of how far the 37-year-old's stock as fallen.
Ronaldo's 18 goals in the Premier League were the highest for the Red Devils in 2021-22, yet his presence might be a net negative overall because of how limited his game has become. He doesn't do much as a facilitator, and his defensive contributions are negligible.
Prior to Ronaldo rejoining the club where he previously spent six seasons from 2003 to 2009, United finished second in the Premier League, albeit in a down year for most top clubs besides champions Manchester City. In his first season back with the club, they finished sixth.
Across all competitions to open the current campaign, Ronaldo has one goal in eight appearances.
The recent discourse, though, is a testament to how benching the five-time Ballon d'Or winner is easier said than done, even if it's the best call for Ten Hag.
Taking the Dutchman at his word for now, will Ronaldo remain happy if he's continually coming on as a sub or not playing altogether in United's biggest matches?
Ronaldo's contract runs through next June. Until then, Ten Hag will have to balance a delicate dynamic.