Cristiano Ronaldo, the legal situation and whether Manchester United can terminate his contract

As the dust settles at Old Trafford after the initial shockwaves of Cristiano Ronaldo’s highly critical interview, the club’s directors have been busy examining their options for the next step in resolving an increasingly toxic situation.

On the day the first installment of Talk TV’s interview with broadcaster Piers Morgan airs, the Glazer family’s owners, CEO Richard Arnold, director of football John Murtaugh and manager Erik ten Hag will have a dialogue with their attorneys. While they wait to see the full extent of player feedback over the next 24 hours.

So far, in excerpts also published by the Sun newspaper and videos viewed more than 11 million times on social media, Ronaldo has accused employers of betrayal and disrespect, taking swipes at Ten Hag and the club hierarchy. Here’s what we know so far.

But what are the club’s options? How can they go about making a constructive move in the wake of the embarrassing controversy from the 37-year-old star?


What is the biggest consideration for United based on what they know?

The most important thing for United is to establish to what extent Ronaldo is in breach of his contract through his comments and what they can do next.

All First Division players sign employment contracts in the Premier League with their clubs.

Under this agreement, they are obligated to “comply with and act in accordance with all legal instructions of any authorized official of the club” and are not allowed to “write or say anything likely to discredit the club…or cause harm to the club”.

Jimmy Singer, a partner at Inside Law who specializes in sports law, feels Ronaldo may have already breached his record contract.

“Under the contract, there is a specific clause that talks about not saying anything that will discredit the club or damage the reputation of the club,” he says. The substance of the interview immediately puts him in breach.

“Standard terms also cover, where possible, informing the club of your interviews in advance. He could have informed the club so I think that may have been another breach.”

It is understood United were made aware of the interview by Ronaldo’s camp on Sunday, shortly before Morgan’s first tweet was to be published, so they may be open to an interpretation of whether that qualifies as reasonable notice in advance.

“As I understand it, the standard contract does not prohibit players from being interviewed,” Singer adds. “But he obliges them to try to help the club by telling them they’re doing it beforehand and making sure they join.”

In this situation, Ronaldo is no different from any of his teammates or players at the other 19 Premier League clubs.

“It’s a Premier League record contract that every Manchester United player would sign and every club would be obligated to use,” says Singer. He (Ronaldo) will have signed these provisions.

This includes terms implied about trust, loyalty, and obedience to reasonable instructions.

“There can be little doubt that what he has done places him in breach of the standard contract. From what I have seen, accusing the club of treachery, of not honoring commitments, it is very easy to say that he has damaged the club’s reputation and damaged the club’s interests.”

What would happen if United decided that Ronaldo had breached his contract?

In the end, the club could terminate the Portuguese deal.

After initially re-joining United in August 2021 on a two-year contract with an option for an additional year, his current terms are due to expire in August 2023 – assuming an additional year is not agreed.

However, if the United hierarchy feels a player’s stay at the club is impossible and wants to try and get rid of him even in the face of appeals or more damaging publicity, there is a process they can follow.


The most important thing for United is determining the extent to which Ronaldo has breached his contract through his comments (Picture: Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

“If he breaks the contract, that’s one thing,” Singer adds. But if it is such a fundamental breach of contract that can lead to termination, then that’s another level.

“You can’t prejudge by a few out-of-context passages and snippets, so it makes sense for United and their legal team to know exactly what is being said and then make a decision.”

United may be advised to follow the process outlined as for any potential breach of contract, and to consider all their options.

“There is a disciplinary process and if someone breaches the contract by doing something they should not have done, the club has scope to fine the player and impose a penalty,” explains Singer.

One notable precedent is former United striker Romelu Lukaku.

The striker gave an interview to Sky Italia last season and criticized Chelsea’s behavior when they failed to play regularly. Then-Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel said Lukaku would face “some discipline” in the interview, but unlike Ronaldo, this player had only been signed for £90m a few months earlier.

Lukaku, who has also apologized for his interview, is now on a season-long loan back at Inter Milan, the club he left for Chelsea.

“If it’s serious or the player doesn’t agree, you go into disciplinary action where the player has the opportunity to defend himself,” says Singer. “The club will say what they think they did wrong, they can argue they don’t think they did anything wrong and then go to the club board to decide what the penalty kick should be or if there is a penalty at all.

“In that case, it would be an internal hearing and they would potentially get to a situation where serious misconduct was committed and they could terminate the contract.

“Or if they think there is too much here, they can cut it short and say they don’t need a disciplinary process. They may argue that it’s so clear and obvious that it’s so serious misconduct that they’ll go straight to termination with 14 days’ notice.”

Are there examples of players ending their contracts?

In August 2011, Hull City terminated the contract of record signing Jimmy Pollard after an incident on a pre-season trip to Slovenia.

Pollard had a lucrative deal until the end of the 2012-13 season and this led to a legal dispute between him and the club. The former midfielder reportedly agreed to the settlement and both parties signed confidentiality agreements.

In 2014, Nicolas Anelka was sacked by West Bromwich Albion for gross misconduct. Anelka – who was handed a five-match ban and fined £80,000 by the Football Association for Quinel A gesture he made at West Ham – he announced via Twitter that he was terminating his playing contract, which had three and a half months to go.


Anelka was sacked by West Brom in 2014 for gross misconduct (Picture: John Walton – PA Images via Getty Images)

The club had suspended the French player from his entire wages following the FA ruling and were planning to continue their own investigation. West Brom had initially said his Twitter statement was “extremely unprofessional”.

Three hours later, the club revealed that they had written to Anelka giving him 14 days’ notice of the termination as required by his contract. They said Anelka failed to apologize for the “impact and consequences (Quinel) gesture” or the acceptance of a heavy fine, which would have resulted in the lifting of his suspension.

Singer thinks it would be best to advise United to go through the full process, however angry they might feel about the interview.

“The safest path is to go through a disciplinary hearing process, we’ll figure it out and you can defend yourself,” he says. Then we decide the punishment.

“If they find him guilty of gross misconduct, which is very rare, a player can still appeal this to the Premier League. What makes it unusual is that a player’s registration value is so important. It is very unusual for a club to terminate a player’s registration contract because of his registration value.” .

“But here they still pay him hundreds of thousands a week and they can’t sell him for a big transfer fee. It changes the dynamic a lot.

“To save £400,000 a week it might be worth going this route. There is enough incendiary stuff in what we’ve seen that could possibly justify gross misconduct.

They may want to go through a disciplinary process to protect themselves against any claims that were not a fair and due process. Knowing that Ronaldo will most likely challenge them, they have another layer of protection after that.”

So what could be the end result?

Despite the possibility of his contract being torn up, United may choose to do things amicably and quietly.

Besides criticizing the facilities at United’s training ground and a series of other damaging remarks about its culture, Ronaldo accused the club of showing a lack of “empathy” when his young daughter was hospitalized in July.

Simon Leaf, head of sports at law firm Mishcon de Reya, believes settling the matter privately could be the club’s best way to limit further embarrassment.

“The club is stuck between a rock and a hard place,” he says. (a) The right of termination is subject to Ronaldo’s right of appeal – in particular as it appears to indicate that United have breached their duties to take reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of their employees, which may extend to allow Ronaldo time off in such difficult circumstances.

“There is no easy answer to this particular legal dispute, and from experience, one suspects, given the sums involved in terms of wages and potential transfer fees that may be waived, both Ronaldo and the club will now try to resolve the issues as amicably as possible privately with a view to Save face for both sides.

(Top photo: Dan Mullan/Getty Images)


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