During his rise to legendary status in the football world, Ronaldo has had his fair share of bust-ups through the years. The Portuguese icon has always had something of a short fuse on the pitch and, if reports are to be believed, off the pitch at times too.
Ronaldo may appear to be something of a prima donna on the surface, but one could argue it’s his pursuit for success and footballing perfection which often leads to his high-profile fallouts with players and managers alike.
The difference between winning and losing in all kinds of games and sports causes emotions to run high. It’s not something unique in Ronaldo or professional footballers in general. In the world of poker, there is an emotional reaction called tilt which is known to impact poker players negatively by clouding their judgement at the tables. Tilt usually occurs when a player is a heavy favourite to win a hand but circumstances – like a lucky river card for an opponent – dictate that they go on to lose unexpectedly. Failing to deal with those losses and accept the reality of variance – even when you're a great player – is one of the main reasons so many poker players lose at the tables.
In some ways, it’s a similar story in football, with only the best players – like Ronaldo – able to shrug off on-field disappointments and maintain their consistency and form for long periods. He is someone who has never suffered fools gladly, both in training and in the dressing room. His pursuit of excellence has so often inspired other players around him, but there have been instances where Ronaldo’s drive and determination to be the best has landed him in hot water.
Ronaldo vs. Wayne Rooney – the Infamous World Cup Wink, 2006
Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney were both young, brilliant footballers, who would propel Manchester United to trophies galore, but on 1 July 2006 in Gelsenkirchen the club teammates were on opposing sides as Portugal played England for a place in the World Cup semi-final.
On the hour mark Rooney stamped on Portugal defender Ricardo Carvalho’s private parts, with Ronaldo vociferously imploring the referee to send him off, and the red card duly was produced. Ronaldo was then caught on camera winking at coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, leading to the English tabloid newspapers having a field day, claiming Ronaldo’s Machiavellian actions had been pre-planned to remove England’s star player from the match.
Manchester United’s legendary manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, with whom Ronaldo has a strong bond, was as pains for the two to patch up their differences as quickly as possible.
And while the papers milked the story of an irreconcilable split, the truth of the matter was that Rooney and Ronaldo talked immediately after the match in the tunnel with the Englishman holding no grudge. Indeed, Rooney said he would have done the same if the roles had been reversed. The two players went on to enjoy tremendous success together at United.
Ronaldo vs. Ruud van Nistelrooy – 2006 training ground incident
They were two elite goal-scorers who gave great service during a golden time for Manchester United, but Ronaldo and Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy fell out badly at the English club.
After an altercation with Ronaldo in training, van Nistelrooy told the then 21-year-old to “go complain to your dad” in reference to CR7’s compatriot Carlos Queiroz, who was the assistant coach at Old Trafford at the time.
The sharp comment left Ronaldo in tears, coming shortly after the untimely death of his father. The Dutchman later admitted he was in the wrong and says the two of them now have a cordial relationship.
Ronaldo vs. Carlos Queiroz at World Cup 2010
Tensions were running high at World Cup 2010 as Portugal fell to a 1-0 defeat against eventual winners Spain to exit the tournament in the round of sixteen.
Queiroz’s ultra-defensive style had been the subject of much debate in Portugal, with Ronaldo enduring his worst spell in a Seleção shirt under the spiky manager, scoring just two goals in 18 games for the national side with the Mozambique-born coach at the helm.
After the defeat in Cape Town, Ronaldo stormed off the pitch. When asked by reporters to explain the loss, Ronaldo barked: “Ask Carlos Queiroz!”
Queiroz, who was sacked soon afterwards following a disastrous start to qualification for the 2012 European Championship, was furious at the remark and the two have never spoken since.
The poor World Cup contrasted sharply with the subsequent Euro 2012, where Portugal under new coach Paulo Bento advanced to the last four before an agonising penalty shootout defeat to their nemesis Spain. Ronaldo has since gone on to rack up over two centuries of appearances for his country.
Ronaldo vs. Rafa Benitez and the USB Stick in 2015/16
Ronaldo clashed big-time with former Real Madrid boss Rafa Benitez. The former Liverpool boss was only in charge at the Bernabeu for six months, but he managed to fall out with Ronaldo almost instantly. His refusal to label Ronaldo as the best player in the world soured their relationship before it even began.
There was also controversy surrounding a USB stick given to Ronaldo by Benitez. On the stick there were videos and tips to help the Portuguese lose his marker in matches, but these tips were promptly shunned by Ronaldo who insisted he knew best.
Ronaldo is a one-of-a-kind footballer. He’s committed his life to the sport and honing his craft. He’s never been afraid to butt heads – metaphorically speaking – with people along the way.
Ronaldo vs. Ralf Rangnick Away at Brentford in 2022
This was the most recent altercation of note at club level, with Ronaldo’s second spell at Manchester United seemingly drawing to a close. Ronaldo and United were two goals to the good at Brentford in January 2022 when interim coach Ralf Rangnick opted to take Ronaldo off.
Ronaldo did not agree with the decision and showed his disgust by throwing his tracksuit coat to the floor, sitting on the bench alone with a face like thunder. He was spotted by the television cameras airing his frustrations to teammates too. Large media outlets like AS would go on to report Ronaldo’s distaste for Rangnick, deeming him unfit to manage the Red Devils.
Ronaldo vs. Fernando Santos, World Cup 2022
For the first time since bursting onto the international scene at Euro 2004, Cristiano Ronaldo’s starting berth for Portugal was being called into question in some quarters ahead of the Qatar World Cup.
Even so, it was an enormous surprise when Fernando Santos dropped his captain ahead the Portugal’s last-16 encounter against Switzerland. Santos, who Ronaldo had lavished with praise after leading the Seleção to glory at Euro 2016, had been left furious by Ronaldo’s petulant reaction to being substituted against South Korea in Portugal’s final group game.
To make matters worse for Ronaldo, his replacement Gonçalo Ramos scored a brilliant hat-trick as Portugal thumped the Swiss 6-1, and the captain was again on the bench for the quarter-final defeat against Morocco.
Some speculated that it signalled the end of Ronaldo’s international career, but the Madeira sensation has bounced back, winning back his place under new coach Roberto Martínez and scoring goals galore during Euro 2024 qualification.
Related: The PortuGOAL files - Cristiano Ronaldo’s extraordinary Portugal career