Cristiano Ronaldo's second spell with Manchester United has come to an acrimonious end. With the benefit of hindsight, it's a reunion that should never have happened. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was in the process of building a faster, younger United team when the Portuguese legend returned to Old Trafford, and Ronaldo disrupted that. You could make a case that the return of Ronaldo cost Solskjaer his job. Solskjaer's replacement Erik Ten Hag plays a style of football unsuited to Ronaldo, so Ronaldo was doomed from the moment the Dutchman was appointed. It was no great surprise when Ronaldo recently said in his now-notorious interview that he doesn’t respect Ten Hag. The feeling is probably mutual.
Recriminations about who was right and who was wrong about Ronaldo returning to Old Trafford will continue for some time. Some fans believe he was only signed to prevent him from signing for Manchester City when he left Juventus, and that might be true. Others will feel that Ten Hag wrote him off too early, and the team will be poorer for his absence. The end result is the same – Ronaldo, even at 37, is now the hottest free agent in world football. He won't come cheaply for any club that wants to sign him because his salary demands will be huge even without a transfer fee, but there will be teams interested.
If you're wondering why big clubs still want Ronaldo at this stage of his career and with a cloud hanging over him, consider the commercial implications. Yes, hiring Ronaldo is expensive, but he's still likely to pay for himself in shirt sales and commercial tie-ins. Using Ronaldo's likeness is still almost like a licence to print money. It was used to promote “Striker Goes Wild,” which is a football-themed online slots game at casinos. Sister Site, which reviews and compares casino sites, notes that it’s one of the most popular football-themed casino games currently available online. There are hundreds of casino games out there using football themes, so the presence of Ronaldo (or rather a Ronaldo lookalike) is likely making the difference for that game. Ronaldo brings money, so clubs will still want to bring him in.
The big question is which club will have him. We've looked at the latest odds on Ronaldo's next club, and this is what the markets are saying. As always, the odds are subject to change.
Paris Saint Germain – 8/1
If Paris Saint Germain signs Cristiano Ronaldo in January, it will be almost as if the French club has “completed” football. They already have Lionel Messi, Neymar jr and Kylian Mbappe. Ronaldo would complete the set and fulfil the fantasies of millions of football fans worldwide of finally seeing Ronaldo and Messi playing on the same team. PSG has the money to get the deal done, but how would all four of these famous players work together? How could they all be accommodated in the same team? Would egos get in the way? A move to PSG would be the most sensational for Ronaldo to make, but it's not the most likely.
Bayern Munich – 7/1
Cristiano Ronaldo has won the English Premier League with Manchester United, La Liga with Real Madrid, and Serie A with Juventus. The only big league in Europe that Ronaldo has neither won nor played in is the German league, so that might make a move to Bayern Munich tempting. Bayern are always the favourites to win the Bundesliga and can be relied upon to challenge for the Champions League. That's what Ronaldo's looking for. There are reasons to believe that Ronaldo would want the move, but are there reasons to believe Bayern Munich would want the move? They've already invested heavily in their forward line by bringing Sadio Mane in from Liverpool, and the kind of salary Ronaldo would demand is likely to be above the tight financial controls that Bayern employ.
Chelsea – 9/4
It’s difficult to imagine Ronaldo playing for any English Premier League club other than Manchester United. However, he’s said that he wants to spend the final few years of his playing career at a club that’s competitive at the highest level. Chelsea have qualified for the latter stages of this year’s Champions League and are believed to be interested, so they have to be considered candidates. The problem with Chelsea is longevity. New manager Graham Potter is already under pressure in the Stamford Bridge hot seat, and Chelsea’s poor domestic form means that qualifying for next season’s Champions League is likely to be difficult unless they win this season’s competition, which would have to be considered unlikely even if they do sign Ronaldo. Signing Ronaldo could be like pulling a rabbit out of the hat for Potter and Chelsea, but whether or not Ronaldo wants to be the rabbit is debatable.
Sporting – 7/4
The favourites to sign Ronaldo as of the time of writing are Sporting Lisbon. It's easy to see why. This would be a nostalgic, romantic return for Ronaldo, as Sporting Lisbon was his first club. He was still a teenager when he left Lisbon for Manchester United, so it would be like his career coming full circle as it draws to a close. Sporting Lisbon haven't been shy about saying they'd love to bring him home. The issue is that Ronaldo has never been the most sentimental of players, and you could argue that a nostalgic, romantic return is precisely what his Manchester United move was supposed to be, and it turned into a disaster. Furthermore, Sporting isn't one of Portugal's top clubs and aren't contenders for European glory. Ronaldo returning to Sporting would be tantamount to an admission from the player that his career is drawing to an end, and he doesn't seem ready to do that yet. We think the bookies might have gotten this wrong.
Is Ronaldo’s next club even on this list? Could he be tempted by huge money in Saudi Arabia or Qatar? Might he fancy his chances of helping to build a franchise in America’s Major League Soccer? We can’t even rule out a stunning return to Real Madrid. Anything is possible, but we likely won’t find out his next move until after the World Cup.