Manchester United mutually terminated Cristiano Ronaldo’s contract on Tuesday, leaving the Portuguese star a free agent ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
There are plenty of potential teams that Ronaldo could join but, for now, the 37-year-old’s focus is entirely on Portugal’s exit from Group H, which contains Ghana, Uruguay and South Korea. .
While it’s unusual to enter the tournament as a free agent, it’s not the first time it’s happened – in fact, he’s not the only top player to lead a nation without being attached to a club.
Indeed, during the 2006 World Cup, Zinedine Zidane played for France despite being technically a free agent. Zizou had announced his intention to retire after the tournament, with his contract with Real Madrid coming to an end.
He played his last match for the Spanish side against Villarreal a few weeks before captaining France at the World Cup in Germany. The Frenchman scored twice on France’s way to reaching the 2006 World Cup final, before netting a penalty to secure his country a 1-0 lead against Italy. Their European rivals equalized soon after, however, with Zidane then sent off for headbutting Marco Materazzi.
Frank Lampard is another elite level player to also be independent of a club during his appearance in the tournament, the Englishman having left Chelsea a few weeks before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. He joined Manchester City soon after, before heading to the United States to play for MLS side New York City FC.
Cristiano Ronaldo is extremely used to breaking every record under the sun, however, if he were to lead Portugal to World Cup glory in Qatar, he wouldn’t even be the first free agent to do so.
A few months before the 1978 World Cup, Argentine defender Alberto Tarantini had a contract dispute with Boca Juniors which left him without a club. Argentina won the tournament with Tarantini in the squad, making him the only player to ever lift the Jules Rimet Trophy while unattached.
He moved to Birmingham City shortly after winning the trophy in his home country.
Elsewhere, Gary Breen went to the 2002 World Cup with the Republic of Ireland as a free agent, with the defender having left Coventry just weeks before. Meanwhile, Breen’s compatriot Tony Cascarino had been released by Chelsea ahead of the 1994 World Cup – he sang for Marseille following that tournament’s conclusion.
However, the Canadian team in 1986 had as many as six free agents in its ranks, including captain Bruce Wilson. Randy Ragan, Randy Samuel, Greg Ion, Jamie Lowery and Sven Habermann all played the tournament in Mexico without a club.