On the eve of the World Cup starting in Qatar, the eyes of the football world have been drawn to the Middle East with most journalists, pundits and fans salivating at the set-piece event that in the coming weeks will occupy more airtime and column inches than any other story. Most global superstars will be doing their talking on the pitch at the brand-new stadia in Doha…apart from one in particular: Manchester United’s Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.
The decision this week by Ronaldo to sit down one on one on TalkTV for an interview with their star presenter Piers Morgan has shocked the footballing world and proven to be box office for the nascent Murdoch-owned news channel that has had a difficult start since its launch in April this year. The interview itself has raised eyebrows in both the media and footballing world. The format (the full interview runs at 90 minutes in two parts), timing of the interview and wide range of topics discussed in an open and frank manner all made waves.
But why did Ronaldo and his own management team choose now and what are the implications for both his own brand, his employers Manchester United and on the other side of the coin, will this bombshell interview give TalkTV the shot in the arm they needed to propel the channel forward and boost ratings?
Let’s look at Ronaldo first. When a high-profile figure like him grants an interview like this, you have to ask why and what is the ultimate objective? It is no secret that one of the most famous and valuable players in world football has been frozen out by the Manchester United club’s hierarchy and with time still on his contract and being unable to manufacture a move away last summer, he has been frozen out of the current plans by new manager Erik Ten Haag. With time ticking on his career and not many seasons left, Ronaldo knows he does not have time on his side.
When you find yourself in a situation where you lose control, engaging with the media publicly to get your own message across can generate headlines and give you leverage in any negotiation, effectively breaking the impasse. Manchester United have removed marketing with Ronaldo’s image on it across the ground in response. It seems that he won’t be playing for his club, perhaps ever again, and with the World Cup and the January transfer window on the horizon, he has energized his current situation and brought his employer to the table.
For TalkTV and Piers Morgan there is no doubt this interview is a major coup. On the eve of the World Cup, a massive international set piece interview such as this generates headlines and puts the channel and the interviewer back on the map and top of mind for advertisers and viewers alike. Breaking big international stories and news has always been valuable currency for news networks and where a marquee presenter like Morgan earns his reported £15m per year. The executives at News UK will be delighted with the interview and it is probably the biggest coup in the network’s young history.
So, who is the biggest winner out of this all? Manchester United have stayed silent and not engaged with the press throughout the entire Ronaldo saga, but it may have given them the excuse they were looking for to terminate his contract. Piers Morgan and Cristiano Ronaldo have generated international headlines and if the latter manufactures a move away from his current club in January and is able to extend his playing career elsewhere, then all parties would feel they have been vindicated.