Ernesto Valverde’s views on Cristiano Ronaldo as he enters Man Utd manager talks

Cristiano Ronaldo may find himself working under his former El Clasico rival


Prior to his time in Catalonia, Valverde managed Athletic Bilbao, Valencia and Villarreal, so he is no stranger to Ronaldo's vast quality after many a top-flight clash in Spain.

The former forward was keen not to provoke the Portuguese icon ahead of a clash between Athletic and Real Madrid in 2016, and played down talk of a dip in form.

"Cristiano’s decline? What is there to say? We play him, and you try not to mention anything so you don’t make him angry," Valverde said. "He could score three or four goals in every game.

"It’s normal the season has low points, he’s always hungry to score…I don’t see many ups and downs. Those who are closer can have another opinion but when we face him there’s always danger in every play."

Ronaldo would go on to win the Best FIFA Men's Player award in 2016 and Valverde found himself discussing the prolific striker the following year as he looked to defend his crown.

Then-Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane heaped praise on his player ahead of the ceremony and insisted he was fully deserving of another individual accolade.

Ernesto Valverde questioned Cristiano Ronaldo's credentials for a coveted award in 2017
(Image: Enric Fontcuberta/EPA-EFE/REX)

"Ronaldo is the best of his generation by far," the Frenchman said. "He's already showed that several times because he's always shown up in important games. He always makes the difference.

"The award he's going to win is most deserved; all the trophies he's winning are well deserved."

Despite his admiration for Ronaldo, Valverde appeared to contradict Zidane by saying: "It's just an opinion like everyone else's. It's fine for me. What am I going to say?"

Pressed further on whether Ronaldo deserved to win the award again, Valverde replied: "I don't know."

La Liga was rocked one year later as Ronaldo left Los Blancos after nine years to join Juventus in a £99million transfer.

Valverde compared his departure to that of Andres Iniesta, who had just left Barcelona after 22 years to join Japanese club Vissel Kobe.

"We have to recognise the kind of player Cristiano was and what he brought to Real Madrid and La Liga. But we lost Andres," Valverde said.

In an interview with Barca Magazine, Valverde also questioned whether Ronaldo's exit would spell the end of constant comparisons between him and Messi.

Ernesto Valverde sided with Lionel Messi over Cristiano Ronaldo
(Image: AFP/Getty Images)

"Ronaldo's departure would seem to have ended the competition between Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo because people rarely mention one without mentioning the other," Valverde said.

"A lot of people are interested, me too, to see how it will affect Real Madrid's football and what they might do in the transfer market, and also knowing that Ronaldo is at another club and what that might mean for La Liga and the Champions League too."

Later that year, Valverde insisted Messi deserved the Ballon d'Or over Ronaldo and his former Real Madrid teammate Luka Modric, the eventual winner.

Cristiano Ronaldo crashed out of the Champions League to Ajax in 2019
(Image: AFP/Getty Images)

Valverde – who has been out of work since leaving Barcelona in January 2020 – found himself discussing Ronaldo once more after Juve crashed out of the Champions League with defeat by Ajax in 2019.

Ronaldo scored in both quarter-final legs but the Italian giants lost 3-2 on aggregate, with Valverde absolving the former Sporting Lisbon star of blame.

"I don't look at particular players, I look at teams," Valverde said. " Juventus are not there (the semi-finals), but Ajax will be there. I don't know if that's an advantage or not."