Cristiano Ronaldo knows how to exit a stage. He left Manchester United in a blaze of angry soundbites. Now he has left the World Cup blinded by his own tears. And for the first time in a long time, I feel a bit sorry for him.

I didn’t expect to feel this way. He has embarrassed himself in recent weeks. He has allowed himself to be portrayed as the worst kind of modern footballer; so far lost in a fog of his own importance that he failed utterly to see that the only place his punches were landing was right on the solar plexus of his own reputation.

But as I sat at the Al Bayt Stadium on Saturday evening before England’s quarter-final, I watched Ronaldo’s last struggle against the dying of the light on TV with a mixture of discomfort and sadness.

After watching Cristiano Ronaldo crash out against Morocco I looked on with some discomfort

You see, he has been one of the greats. This is not simply another very good footballer we are watching walk out of our lives. No, this one was a genius. One of the very best we have seen. Tough as boots, too.

And on Saturday it came to an end. His relevance expired as his substitute cameo failed to inspire Portugal to rein in a remarkably dogged Morocco team.

Yes, he should have hung around to shake some hands at the end. Yes, he should have waved his thanks to the Portugal supporters in the stadium. But as I watched him wipe tears away in the players’ tunnel en route to the Portugal dressing room, it was possible to peer right into the soul of a man who knows that it’s over.

There may yet be a couple of years hawking his reputation and his remaining talents around one of the world’s lesser leagues. Saudi Arabia has been mentioned, though we hope not. America’s MLS would fit in many ways.

But in terms of relevance and meaning, it’s done. There will not be another major trophy. There will not be another World Cup.

This was Ronaldo’s last chance to win a major trophy and there will not be another World Cup

All that he has known since he first caught our eye in that pre-season friendly as an 18-year-old in Lisbon in 2003 is sliding through his fingers, and if he is grieving for that then we should allow him the privilege.

Few have worked harder to get to the top of the game. Former Manchester United team-mates Roy Keane and Gary Neville can testify to that. And that Ronaldo has made such an unholy mess of his final weeks centre stage perhaps says less about him than it does about those who surround him.

It is impossible to get near a player of Ronaldo’s stature these days without first fighting through a line of PRs, agents and ‘friends’. So it is pertinent to ask, where on earth have they been these last few weeks? What has been their advice? Or were they too busy counting the financial value of all the publicity to really care?

The problem with success is that when it ends, many of a star’s friends slip away.

I hope Ronaldo has some wisdom to call on in the weeks and months to come. I hope he has someone with decency and a sense of perspective in his ear, I really do. Because if he thinks the last few weeks have been difficult, the chances are that the coming months and years will be much worse.

Where has Ronaldo’s agent and line of PRs been over the last few weeks to give him advice?

England did not lose to France because of the referee, but Brazil’s Wilton Sampaio was not very good. He looked flustered from the first minute and that’s never good.

Not that I was surprised. It’s always like this at World Cups. I have covered six now and every single time I come home realising that, for all the imperfections of Premier League officials, they are an awful lot better than the majority.

FIFA declared another full house for England’s quarter-final at the Al Bayt. What a load of nonsense. Roughly a quarter of the seats were unoccupied and there were fewer England fans there than against Senegal.

I don’t believe every venue has to be full throughout a four-week tournament for it to be considered a success, but if you can’t sell out England v France in the last eight on a Saturday night, then something is very wrong indeed. And fudging the figures won’t help.

England did not lose to France because of the referee but he looked flustered from minute one

I feel SORRY for Cristiano Ronaldo. He has been one of the greats but his relevance came to an end

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