The Spaniard takes over for Fernando Santos, who stepped down in December following Portugal’s World Cup quarterfinal loss to Morocco amid the controversy of benching Ronaldo in the tournament’s knockout stage in Qatar.
Former Belgium national team coach Roberto Martinez made his debut as Portugal’s new coach on Monday, pledging to respect Cristiano Ronaldo’s history with the team.
“I want to talk to everyone. The list of 26 players from the last World Cup will be my starting point, and Cristiano was part of that list,” Martínez said.
“He has been with the national team for 19 years and deserves the respect of us sitting down and talking. We want to get to know all players, and Cristiano is one of them.”
Martinez, who coached Belgium for six years, left the team after its disappointing group-stage elimination at the World Cup, when he failed to lead the country’s golden generation to victory.
He joins a Portugal team full of talented players like Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, and Joo Félix, but also amid questions about Ronaldo’s future.
Ronaldo’s World Cup exit capped a turbulent few weeks that began with an explosive interview with Piers Morgan and ended with the termination of his contract at Manchester United. He later announced a move to Saudi club Al Nassr.
The Portuguese captain was surrounded by controversy during the World Cup following former coach Fernando Santos’ decision to bench him in Portugal’s 6-1 thrashing of Switzerland.
Later, rumours spread that during Seleço das Quinas’ brief run in the elimination round in Qatar, Ronaldo had threatened to walk out on the team. Portugal denied those reports.
Santos benched the 37 year-old again during the match against Morocco, rendering Ronaldo a substitute in the game’s second half.
Following the loss against Morocco, Ronaldo, the only player to score in five separate World Cups, said that his dream of winning a World Cup “ended”, hinting at potential retirement from the Portugal team.
“It’s my job to try to give all players an opportunity, and to respect the ones who are already with the national team, including Cristiano Ronaldo,” coach Martínez added.
“It’s a process that will have to occur naturally. We have a lot of work and a lot of responsibility, and we will have to make some important decisions for the national team.”
Meanwhile, Martinez added that there are 54 Portuguese players in the top five European leagues who are 28 or younger and who will be looked at closely.
“Portuguese players always adapt well in the top leagues and give their clubs great competitiveness,” Martinez said. “I’m excited about the winning mentality of the Portuguese players. The goal is to keep dreaming big.”
The 49-year-old coached Belgium to a third-place finish at the 2018 World Cup and to the quarter-finals of the 2020 European Championship.
Belgium never won a major tournament while Martinez was in charge of the team despite having talented players, but the team was ranked No. 1 by FIFA for four years during his tenure.
Martinez, who also served as the national team’s technical director since 2020, stated that he decided to leave Belgium before the World Cup in Qatar.
Portugal was trying to make it to the World Cup semi-finals for the third time, having finished third in 1966 and fourth in 2006. The team hadn’t gotten past the round of 16 since that tournament in Germany 16 years ago.
Martinez’s next opportunity to win the golden trophy will come in four years, at the 2026 World Cup in North America, which may be without Ronaldo.