"This fella Ronaldo is a cod."
If you were looking for a quote to sum up Eamon Dunphy's style of punditry, his iconic line on the then-23-year-old Manchester United star is probably the one you'd go to.
Dunphy knows the game, that's for sure. But he's always been one to stir the pot, and his 2008 rant about Ronaldo can very much be filed under 'outbursts'.
The rant from Dunphy came in the aftermath of Manchester United's 2008 Champions League semi-final first leg against Barcelona. The game finished 0-0 after Ronaldo missed an early penalty. Dunphy asserted that the Portuguese's performance was marked by 'petulance' and went so far as to brand it a 'disgrace'.
And yet, United would go on to reach the final, in which Ronaldo scored and helped to deliver the European Cup back to Old Trafford. 14 years on, Ronaldo is back at Manchester United, but things look a whole lot different to how they did in 2008.
The end of Ronaldo's first season back at United provides a fascinating opportunity to examine Dunphy's comments.
Looking back on Eamon Dunphy's Ronaldo comments 14 years on
It's hard to imagine a world where Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo weren't firmly established as the greatest players of their generation. But Dunphy's "cod" rant came at a time when their dominance over the game was only just beginning.
The 2008 Champions League semi-finals brought the two youngsters together - and Dunphy was certainly not impressed with United's 23-year-old Portuguese winger.
Ronaldo's performance tonight was a disgrace to football. Liam [Brady] doesn't want me to say this, because I'll get myself into trouble - it was a disgrace. It was a disgrace of petulance, temperament, throwing himself on the ground at least half a dozen times looking for fouls that he didn't get, claiming two penalties that he didn't get, waving his arms at other players on his own team.
It was a disgrace to professional football.
You asked before if this was about two great young players, Messi and Ronaldo - if it was, Messi proved himself after only 45 minutes football in the last six weeks, to be a real pro and a real player.
This fella Ronaldo is a cod.
He's a disgrace to the game. That's what I believe.
Bill O'Herlihy must have had "ah, Eamon, you can't say that" etched into his psyche after years of working with Dunphy on the RTÉ panel. He vehemently disagreed with Dunphy's take on Ronaldo, but John Giles on the panel also called Ronaldo's performances 'disgraceful'.
Dunphy's comments are fascinating in the context of the season they came during. The 2007-08 season was the "magnum opus" of sorts for Ronaldo at Manchester United. 42 goals in all competitions, 31 in the Premier League, and a goal in the Champions League final, as United triumphed in Europe and in England.
𝐓𝐇𝐑𝐄𝐀𝐃: Cristiano Ronaldo Manchester United moments 🔴@Cristiano heads the Red Devils in front in Moscow before going on to claim his first #UCL title in 2008 ⚽️🏆@ManUtd | #RonaldoReturns pic.twitter.com/w0fMOLzWh2
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) August 31, 2021
Ronaldo would win the world player of the year award for 2008, before cashing in on a mega move to Real Madrid in the summer of 2009. Real saw fit to pay a world record transfer fee for Ronaldo, and that was his worth. United never fully replaced him after 2009 - their most recent attempt to replace 24-year-old Ronaldo was to sign a 36-year-old Ronaldo from Juventus.
Despite his importance to a United team that won the Champions League and Premier League, doubts persisted from Dunphy and co. about Ronaldo's attitude.
What has been lost in the way that the rant has been remembered is that Dunphy's broader point was sound analysis. Both Giles and Brady agreed in essence with Dunphy's point on Ronaldo's petulance. Sure, Dunphy may have overshot with his assertion that Ronaldo was a "disgrace", but his point about Ronaldo's attitude held firm with the entire punditry team.
It's abundantly clear that Dunphy appreciated the footballing prowess of Ronaldo. He (eventually) acknowledged his consistent brilliance in the 2007-08 season, but the wider point remains. Dunphy knew that Ronaldo was the best in the world. That simply didn't matter.
If he is going to be the greatest in the world in our sport, I want him to be someone I can admire.
You sit and watch the BBC and Sky describing him as a genius, fantastic, the greatest player in the world. It's an insult to Rooney, to Paul Scholes tonight who was magnificent.
You can throw me off this panel, I don't care.
Cristiano Ronaldo was a name synonymous with diving, whinging, the dark arts, et al. during his first spell at Manchester United. To an extent, those traits remain. But his time at Real Madrid saw him develop not only as a footballer, but as a dedicated sportsperson.
It is fair to say that Ronaldo is the most dependable and consistent big game match winner in modern football. Five Champions League medals, with four goals across those finals - one with his head, one with his left foot, one with his right foot, and one penalty - shows his prowess on the biggest stage.
His attitude has changed to the game. He became a reliable figure in big games, and has developed into one of the greatest players in the sport's history.
Old Trafford welcomed back Ronaldo with open arms last summer, and his presence at Manchester United has been one of the most consistently visited subplots of this turbulent season for the club.
Roy Keane is happy to see Cristiano Ronaldo back at Old Trafford 👀 pic.twitter.com/XeIizlnASS
— Balls.ie (@ballsdotie) August 27, 2021
Ronaldo's role in this United team is dramatically different to where he fit in 2008. The most glaringly obvious is that the 2008 team were winning trophies. This team are not. A shambolic season has seen Ronaldo, along with goalkeeper David de Gea, stand alone as the sole shining lights for United.
In terms of attacking talent, 2008 saw Ronaldo alongside a frenzied, brilliant Carlos Tevez, and Wayne Rooney in the early peak which would define his career. This season has seen nowhere near the attacking power alongside the Portuguese striker.
And yet, Ronaldo is likely to work his way into the team of the season in the Premier League, sitting in third place on the top scorers chart with an impressive 18 goals. Despite United's dire season, Ronaldo has dragged them to important wins in the league.
At 37 years of age, he continues to dazzle the Premier League, in a far more underwhelming side than that in which he originally played.
— Balls.ie (@ballsdotie) March 12, 2022
That being said, the petulance of 2008 is still visible. One of the biggest flashpoints came at Brentford in January, when Ronaldo went into a strop after being substituted by Ralf Rangnick. The ugliest incident, however, came when he smashed the phone of a young fan at Goodison Park, after United's 1-0 defeat to Everton.
Let's circle back to Dunphy and the infamous RTÉ rant of April 2008. It is, perhaps, Giles who has the most fascinating insight into Ronaldo's attitude:
I'm looking at Ronaldo as a great player and judging him by great players in the past.
I've always said about Ronaldo: I've seen Ronaldo do things that the great players could do - but he does an awful lot of things that great players would never do.
Ronaldo is undoubtedly a great player. He may well be the greatest of all time. And he has matured into a better and more reliable sportsperson over the course of an illustrious career. The likes of Dunphy have eased off him and have, eventually, appreciated the sporting genius we have all witnessed over the past two decades.
For the most part, the on field petulance that defined his early career has been eradicated. But it's still there - as Ralf Rangnick learned in west London in January, and an unfortunate Everton fan learned last month. Ronaldo's brilliance on the pitch, and his winningness, however, have mostly diverted the attention and focus away from the "stroppy" side to his game.
Ronaldo. CR7. Ronnie. Cristiano. Cod.
Whatever you call him, the petulance and arrogance of Ronaldo is part of his identity. It has made him deeply unpopular with many fans and pundits and, despite all of the goals and trophies, it will always be part of what is remembered about him.
Dunphy's rant has entered the Irish lexicon. It ranks among the greatest moments in the history of sports TV in this country. Even if he has rowed back his stance on the United number 7 in recent years, Dunphy will be remembered for 'Ronaldo is a cod' for years to come.