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Even if he’s slid down the pecking order a bit, Cristiano Ronaldo is still one of the biggest names in world soccer. The Portuguese striker may be past his prime, but he’s still more than capable of finding the back of the net. In a sport with incredibly fine margins, that ability can make all the difference. When Manchester United face Chelsea, though, CR7 will be nowhere to be found.

There’s not an injury. Ronaldo, at least as of now, hasn’t left United. Instead, in a move that’s sure to frustrate the forward, he’s been dropped from the squad for disciplinary reasons. Manager Erik ten Hag, it seems, isn’t messing around.

And while it remains to see how things will work out on Saturday, the Dutchman is making the right call from a big-picture perspective.

Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t in the Manchester United squad after crossing several lines against Tottenham

During his time on the football pitch, Cristiano Ronaldo’s ego helped to make him one of the best players the sport has ever seen. During a midweek match with Tottenham Hotspur, however, that same inner fire got him in trouble.

With a few moments left in the contest, the cameras panned away from United’s comfortable win to show Ronaldo on the sidelines. He was seen heading down the tunnel, ignoring the fact that the game hadn’t officially ended. While that was already a violation, things have only gotten worse as the details trickled out.

First, we heard that CR7 didn’t just leave the pitch but completely left the stadium. Then ten Hag confirmed that he had asked the striker to come on as a substitute, but Ronaldo refused to enter the fray.

All of that, in addition to the fact that the Portuguese star had already left Old Trafford early once before, left the manager no choice.

“Cristiano Ronaldo will not be part of the Manchester United squad for this Saturday’s Premier League game against Chelsea,” the club communicated in a two-sentence statement. “The rest of the squad is fully focused on preparing for that fixture.”

With that being said, though, ten Hag remained largely diplomatic during his Friday press conference.

“Details are between Cristiano Ronaldo and me. The statement is also clear. Cristiano remains an important player in the squad,” the Dutchman explained, according to Fabrizio Romano. “I’m responsible for the culture, I’ve to set the standards and values. Football is team sport. You have to set certain standard”.

At the risk of drawing an outsized conclusion, this could be a watershed moment for Manchester United

At this point, ten Hag and Manchester United really didn’t have much of a choice. Ronaldo wants to leave the club, has crossed the line before, and is only a bit part player. Even if it might cost the team a game — if you need a substitute to score, CR7 is probably your man — there’s no point in having someone on the bench who’s unwilling to enter the action.

Looking at the bigger picture, though, this could be the moment when United finally gets it.

If you consider the club’s struggles since Sir Alex Ferguson left, some clear patterns have emerged. There’s almost been a sense of arrogance and a refusal to commit to a rebuild. Things don’t need to be torn down, the logic went. Instead, getting a new, big-name manager or the next star to hit the transfer market can solve the problems.

Except, in reality, they haven’t. That policy has left United with a mismatched squad, full of expensive players rather than a real team.

Hiring Erik ten Hag seemed like the first step in changing that. While the transfer business wasn’t ideal, it looked like there was someone capable of running the project at the helm. Then, the issue became committing to that project, even if there were bumps in the road.

Manchester United forward Cristiano Ronaldo warms up on the Old Trafford pitch.
Cristiano Ronaldo warms up ahead of Manchester United’s match against Tottenham Hotspur. | Oli Scarff /AFP via Getty Images

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Ronaldo could have been one of those bumps, but the club and manager are presenting a united (pun not intended) front. No player is bigger than the badge, even a global star. Again, CR7’s recent performances have made dropping him a bit easier, but it’s still a big call to sit him down.

With that decision, though, ten Hag’s power will only grow. He’s clearly in charge, and while things can change in an instant, the club’s brass seems content to let him lead the way. Will United ever allow him to completely tear things down, ala Arsenal? Probably not, but this could be the start of the Red Devils’ cultural reset.

That, of course, will take plenty of effort. But, as the cliche says, “A journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step.”

Removing Cristiano Ronaldo from the squad could be just that starting point.

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