Gary Neville has suggested Fernando Santos let Cristiano Ronaldo down by not building his Portugal team around him during their World Cup campaign in Qatar.
Ronaldo exited football’s biggest stage in tears after Portugal were defeated by Morocco in the quarter-finals, having been dropped from the starting line-up in the two knockout games.
The 37-year-old had managed just one goal in three starts during the group stages in Qatar and reacted angrily when Santos substituted him off early in the defeat to South Korea.
That led to Ronaldo being benched for the last-16 game with Switzerland. His replacement in attack, 21-year-old Benfica player Goncalo Ramos, scored a hat-trick in a 6-1 win.
Ramos also kept his place for the quarter-final against Morocco but Santos threw on Ronaldo in the 51st-minute in an unsuccessful attempt to reverse a 1-0 deficit.
That led to Santos, 68, being sacked after eight years at the helm which included Portugal’s Euro 2016 triumph.
Speaking to Sky Sports, Neville contrasted the situation between Ronaldo and Portugal to that of finalists Argentina and their talisman Lionel Messi.
‘Messi has been managed by Argentina in terms of how the rest of the group have come around him, and they completely play to his strengths,’ he said.
‘Whereas with Portugal and with Santos having known Cristiano for so long, I thought he’d have done the same.
‘It feels to me like something has happened within the tournament that’s meant the plan has changed and Santos has thought, “I need to leave you out.”
‘But once you leave Cristiano out, it’s not just leaving another player out. It becomes a global story.
‘I actually felt sorry for Cristiano in the end, when he was walking down that tunnel in tears. That’s never a good image.
‘You know he’s thinking, “this is it, I’m never going to play in this tournament again.”
‘I wouldn’t class it as an underachievement from Ronaldo, I’d say it’s an overachievement that he’s doing what he’s doing at the age of 37, it’s just the way it ended with him being out of the team.’