Cristiano Ronaldo separated himself from Manchester United teammates as much as the fans did at Brighton – Samuel Luckhurst

The Manchester United supporters in the away end must have glanced enviously at Brighton. They have a progressive coach, recruit impressively, play enthralling football, the stadium facilities are excellent and the atmosphere impressive for a new build.

Journalism students from the nearby university are granted invaluable access on matchdays and the Amex Stadium is a color writer’s dream. The press boxes are positioned behind the dugouts and, in order to access the press conference room, you have to pass through the tunnel.

Debris from the turf had not been swept away as we strolled through post-match, passing a topless Victor Lindelof speaking Svenska with the Brighton coach Bjorn Hamberg.

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The mixed zone is positioned towards the end of the tunnel and long after the final shrill Juan Mata was deep in conversation with Bruno, the former Brighton defender now on the club’s coaching staff.

David de Gea emerged from the dressing room and paused to debrief. You did not have to be fluent in Spanish or earwig intently to discern the dismay De Gea expressed, his body language a giveaway.

When Pascal Gross passed De Gea, he gave him a farewell pat. “Roy Keane would love that,” quipped a reporter, referring to Gross scoring past De Gea.

Harry Maguire and the reserved Aaron Wan-Bissaka were the first United players to leave the stadium. Anthony Elanga was hunched over a desk. Danny Welbeck held court with Jesse Lingard, Mike Phelan and a United staff member.

Naturally, none of the United players stopped to speak. Bruno Fernandes was obliged to mumble some words to the rights holders.

Old Trafford barely had a mixed zone in pre-Covid times and it did not reopen this season. Brighton’s press officer brought three players over to the thick of reporters and the wide-eyed journalism students recalled how media-friendly Liverpool were.

Cristiano Ronaldo emerged from the dressing room after Ralf Rangnick’s press conference had finished and was escorted towards one exit by a security bod. Minutes later, he returned indoors.

United’s security escort explained to Brighton staff Ronaldo would wait for United’s two coaches to depart before re-emerging for his waiting driver.

United sources claim a number of players left separately as the squad have allocated days off. But none of the security personnel in the tunnel were discussing the travel arrangements of other players; only Ronaldo.

Ronaldo retreated to the sanctuary dressing room. Outside, a besuited minder stood by the door like a bouncer. The only United staff members pottering about were the kitmen. All of the players had left the building.

Ronaldo must have stayed inside the dressing room for at least 20 minutes. He eventually emerged at 8.25pm. An amiable Brighton staff member directed him to the side exit most of the players had taken. “Bye,” Ronaldo bluntly replied.

Freshly showered, his hair gelled and clad in a red and black tracksuit, Ronaldo separated himself from the United players as much as the supporters had.

In the dying embers of the latest humiliation, United fans started twirling their bar scarves, chanting ‘Viva Ronaldo’. Rather than briskly leave the pitch, Ronaldo applauded them at full-time. They then restarted their rendition of “You’re not fit to wear the shirt”.

The United supporters were effective in their messaging. Ronaldo was exempt from the ‘You’re not fit’ chanting that first began after Brighton’s fourth goal. Many fans had retired to the concourse for a pint and a sing-song by the time Leandro Trossard bundled in.

Those in the away end would not be sorry to see the back of almost everyone else in red. Diogo Dalot, stood dumbfounded in front of the away end at full-time, does not lack effort but does lack quality. Alex Telles lacks both. Lindelof jogs and Raphael Varane has become afflicted with the marqueeitiis disease Angel di Maria, Radamel Falcao, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Alexis Sanchez suffered.

Scott McTominay and Anthony Elanga are overplayed squad players, Nemanja Matic has checked out, Juan Mata will be soon and Fernandes has lowered expectations but raised his salary. Edinson Cavani has shown all the get-up of a retirement home resident and Maguire has been rumbled.

Long before full-time, hundreds of United supporters trudged down the gangways to make the 19.01 from Falmer station. Hundreds were on the platform. The game finished at around 19.20.

“People I know who NEVER leave early were on that train,” messaged an away-dayer.


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