Portugal coach Fernando Santos has called for Cristiano Ronaldo to be ‘left alone’ while disclosing that the step to drop the star player to the bench was not an easy one and a decision which had caught the five-time Ballon d’Or winner by surprise initially but which he readily accepted after a short talk.
Santos said it was high time to leave Ronaldo alone and acknowledge what he “did for Portugal’s football”.
“He wasn’t very happy about it for obvious reasons. Any player who doesn’t play isn’t happy. We coaches have to deal with it,” Santos said with the 37-year-old not in the starting XI in Portugal’s 6-1 win on Tuesday for the first time since 2008.
“He said to me: Do you really think that’s a good idea?”
“I explained my point of view to him, and he accepted it,” said Santos, while informing the captain of the decision at noon before the Round of 16 clash with Switzerland in a “normal conversation”.
“He’s the captain of our team, he gave so much to Portuguese football, to the people, to the national team.”
Santos again rejected reports of Ronaldo’s departure threat. “He never said he wanted to leave the team. It’s time to finish this and stop,” said the 68-year-old, who praised Ronaldo’s behaviour as a substitute.
“He warmed up with his teammates, he celebrated all the goals, he encouraged the team to be with the fans to thank.”
Santos also left it open whether defender Rúben Dias, who had recently only trained individually in the gym, can be there from the start: “Let’s see what happens.”
He expects a “completely different opponent” against Morocco on Saturday than in the 6-1 Round of 16 against Switzerland, said Santos when asked whether he would change his starting XI. “Every coach sets up his team as he sees fit and adapts the strategy to the opponent. That’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
Santos expressed great respect for Morocco. “They are a very well-organized team with great potential”, he said of the opponents who could become the first African team to reach the semi-finals of a World Cup. “Their players play at the best clubs in the world, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich. It won’t be an easy game for Portugal.”