By the time a fifth question on Cristiano Ronaldo had been put to Bernardo Silva, it was clear the Manchester City midfielder’s patience was beginning to wear thin and he had said all he was going to say on the matter.
“I don’t understand your persistence on this subject,” Bernardo countered, even if he never allowed his simmering irritation to override his natural politeness.
Bernardo had done his best to insist the Ronaldo circus was not going to overshadow Portugal’s preparations for the World Cup, and their opening match against Ghana on Thursday, that there was “no strange atmosphere” between the striker and his Manchester United team-mate Bruno Fernandes and that he didn’t see a “big issue” here.
But the unfortunate reality is that the Selecao have been caught in the crosshairs of their captain’s personal war with United, and the pricking of a planetary sized ego, and the repercussions are a very public sideshow Fernando Santos and his squad would gladly do without.
United, for their part, do not want the soap opera to become any more of a distraction than it needs to be as they seek a quick and clean solution to the mess, even if they have appointed lawyers and all roads will lead to him being kicked out of the club in one form or another.
Yet you only needed to witness the rather frenetic scenes on Saturday afternoon, when hundreds of media from around the world descended on the Al Shahaniya Sports Club where Portugal are training, to appreciate this is not a situation where people are going to look the other way.
This was Ronaldo’s first public appearance since his incendiary interview with Piers Morgan aired and he effectively turned Old Trafford defector. And it was telling that there were almost as many reporters, photographers and cameramen locked outside the training ground, along with a posse of young Ronaldo supporters, as the 200 or so bodies who swamped the stands adjacent to the pitch where United’s renegade centre-forward was training.
It is a 30-kilometre car ride from downtown Doha to sleepy Al Shananiya, past the huge fortress housing Qatar’s Amiri Guard and the nearby camel racing track, and it seems certain to become a well trodden path at this tournament.
With another five days before Portugal face Ghana, their communications team have warned that even journalists who have requests to attend media events going forward risk being turned away on the door such is the interest in Ronaldo.
Ronaldo, meanwhile, has been carrying on like nothing has happened, plugging his many sponsors on social media from Live Score and Binance to Therabody and zujuGP and revelling in his new Madame Tussauds’ waxwork in New York’s Times Square.
Despite his lack of goals and playing minutes and poor form for United and the fact he missed Portugal’s 4-0 friendly win over Nigeria on Thursday with a stomach complaint, the five-time World Player of the Year is expected to start against Ghana and looked untroubled in training. The interesting one, though, will be Uruguay.
Santos and his staff may still rate Ronaldo as the best they have in the box but that is not the case outside it and, given the way Uruguay play, it is thought some consideration may be given to dropping the captain for that match depending on how things go against Ghana.
Bernardo brushed off a question when asked if it would be Ronaldo plus another 10 against the Ghanaians and said Portugal were a “very strong generation” who “know how to respond” in those instances when their captain is not there.
Wayne Rooney has suggested his 37-year-old former United team-mate is struggling to accept the fact he is no longer the force he was although those close to Ronaldo say the events of recent weeks and months have only made him more determined to star in Qatar.
Indeed, should he succeed in rolling back the years, he would not be the first superstar to come into the World Cup on the back of a troubled season and thrive.
From the Brazilian Ronaldo in 2002 and Francesco Totti with Italy four years later to Spain’s Andres Iniesta in 2010, Bastian Schweinsteiger, of Germany, in 2014 and France’s Paul Pogba in Russia four years ago, the past five tournaments have been littered with tales of players who overcame an array of problems to inspire their countries to glory.
Can Ronaldo do likewise with Portugal? Whatever materialises, the spotlight seems certain to remain intense.