Cristiano Ronaldo has been featured in promotional material at the launch of Manchester United’s new kit for the 2022-2023 season, but a special advertisement featuring him prominently is being held in reserve until the club has clarity about his future.
Footage has been shot of Ronaldo teaming up with Eric Cantona and David Beckham bringing together three iconic United No 7s, and the final version would be released at the same time as the latest Adidas shirts go on sale.
The uncertainty surrounding Ronaldo – fueled by telling United he will leave if a suitable offer comes in, and continued by his absence from Carrington to prepare for the season and leaving for their summer tour today – has prompted a reconsideration. The ad remains in the creative process and is subject to change depending on Ronaldo’s standing in Erik ten Hag’s roster.
Ronaldo is still expected to be prominent if he stays. If he were to leave, there are ways to rework the ad so that it still has an impact for fans. Bryan Robson, who contributed to events surrounding the kit launch in 2015-16, is another legendary No. 7 involved in the process.
On Friday morning, United released a 30-second video on social media of multiple past and present players, including Ronaldo, alongside the kit release.
As the developments surrounding Ronaldo are so new, United and Adidas agreed to take a break to put him at the center of the kit’s launch.
That approach seems sensible. It would have been inappropriate for Ronaldo to have come to prominence on a key occasion for the club so soon after he expressed his willingness to leave. But wiping him off all marketing could have been seen as an admission that he will be playing elsewhere this season.
On Thursday, the fourth day of training that Ronaldo has missed for family reasons, United reiterated their stance that he is not for sale, dismissing suspicions that club executives are open to doing business for suitable offers.
Undoubtedly, his global profile helps on a commercial level and no one should expect United to forgo that upgrade due to any turbulence caused by the player. Releasing pictures of Ronaldo in the new kit, with Cantona and other current players, seems like a sensible compromise in a tricky situation.
United couldn’t have let him lead the way, even if he was flanked by two members of the royal family at Cantona and Beckham – two players who each happened to leave Old Trafford with some element of drama. Cantona abruptly ended his career at the age of 30 after winning the title in 1997, leaving the whole country in shock. Beckham also left as champion in 2003 after a season in which Sir Alex Ferguson kicked a boot that struck him in the face.
While Ronaldo, as the club’s most famous player, played an important role in preparing the kit’s promotion, Cantona was at the start of the campaign because the shirt had a collar. He was recruited in the beginning.
Footage of Cantona turning the collar, as he did during his playing days, is seen as a stylish nod to nostalgia. The rest of the kit design is also something of a throwback.
While the exact marketing was fluid, the launch date has always been set at the end of this week before the team flies to Bangkok for the first leg of their pre-season tour. The kit launch has not been delayed at all by Ronaldo’s request to leave.
On the day Ronaldo posed for shots in the new kit, which happened about five weeks ago, he gave the clear impression that he would be at the club wearing it on the pitch. Only he knows if he followed his advice or if he changed his mind in the intervening period.
Now that confidence is not there and it was confirmed on Thursday evening that he would not board the plane to Thailand on Friday. He could still join the Australian leg, with United on July 13, but even that is currently in doubt.
United train today at 10.30am and depart on tour at 4.30pm.
Ronaldo’s presence on tour is heavily factored in by the organizers and usually there are financial penalties for absent first-teamers. But the athletic can confirm that there is no contractual clause attached to any United player, so the club are free from fines if Ronaldo stays away.
Abroad, Ten Hag will focus on the players he can coach. The Australian climate in Melbourne and Perth is temperate, so suitable for the training blocks the United manager wants to use to teach his way of playing.
Fans at Bangkok’s Rajamangala Stadium will get a first glimpse of that approach, as well as the new kit. The question of whether Ronaldo might wear it again after his day in front of the cameras will follow United on their travels.
(Top photo: Angel Martinez/Getty Images)