There's a grainy old clip somewhere on the internet of Cristiano Ronaldo quite literally scoring goals in the dark.

An instinct for finishing so sharp it rendered the use of his eyes non-essential, the most prolific striker in international football history tucks away cross after cross even as the room is purposefully plunged into blackness. But to watch the Portuguese in recent months, whether on the pitch or obscure TV channels insisting he’s better looking than Wayne Rooney, is to observe a man who senses the lights going out on all that once made him so formidable.

Ronaldo has always carried a reputation for petulance, yet like all elite athletes such traits are generally accepted as simply part of what makes him tick, that he somehow wouldn’t quite be the same if not permitted to behave like a toddler on occasion.

Tantrums were most often triggered by the perceived inadequacy of others amid his relentless quest for perfection. However, the sight of Ronaldo setting his Manchester United legacy ablaze last week, gleefully egged on by a compliant Piers Morgan, flips that old gripe of his on its head.

He may attempt to frame an already infamous interview as a daring expose of a dysfunctional club but it is one that falls flat considering his re-signing was a tell-tale symptom of said mismanagement; and when he spends a not inconsiderable chunk of it slating manager Erik ten Hag, the club’s most promising appointment of the mostly dire post Sir Alex Ferguson era.

Would he have been so concerned about the club's ownership had Ten Hag not regularly benched him these past few months?

Regardless, anyone who has even half-heartedly followed United this season, and the statistics back this up, will know the simple truth Ronaldo refuses to accept – they are better without their ageing number seven.

It’s a fate time foists upon all great footballers and usually long before their 37th birthday. But such is Ronaldo’s iron will, superhuman physique and, above all else, generational talent, perhaps he’d convinced himself he really could go on forever.

The sad truth is we’re witnessing a player now well beyond an admittedly mindboggling peak. Yes, he’s long since accommodated for losing that yard of blistering pace, moving in off the flank to rebrand as the world’s best number nine.

But suddenly the ball isn’t hitting the net anymore, the chances he’d so greedily devour go unfinished and the physical demands of elite football appear beyond what even this most freakish of athletes can muster as he creeps towards a fifth decade.

With all that in mind, Portugal manager Fernando Santos can’t say he hasn’t been warned.

Intense focus on Ronaldo is no new phenomenon for Selecao das Quinas. The inevitable romantic narrative as the World Cup begins is a last dance for the country’s greatest ever player; one more opportunity to deliver the Jules Rimet to sit alongside 2016’s European Championship.

But the question facing Santos is whether a side littered with attacking talent has evolved beyond the need for their legendary captain to sit atop an immovable pedestal.

For years, this has been a team built around one man.

That foundation of Portuguese football now sits upon rapidly shifting sands. “Less Ronaldo, more Portugal” was the headline in A Bola, one of the country’s foremost sports newspapers, as they demanded he be dropped for September’s Nations League fixtures.

“More Portugal” presumably involves unleashing Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva, Rafael Leao, Andre Silva and Joao Felix, an embarrassment of riches somehow manifesting as oddly pragmatic under Santos. A less-than-leisurely route to the finals and an underwhelming Euro 2020 have placed the 68-year-old coach’s coat on the proverbial shoogly peg.

He will know that failure to negotiate a way past Uruguay, South Korea and Ghana in Group H spells the end of his tenure. If Santos has designs on leading Portugal into a bold post-Ronaldo era, he simply cannot fail.

But the funny thing about that post-Ronaldo era is you must actually part with Ronaldo to get there. “Much easier said than done,” you hear Manchester United groan as they consult their army of lawyers, presumably regarding their right to escort him off the premises.

Santos will note his captain’s turbulent domestic season and understandably wonder how destabilising inviting such a circus would be - especially since Ronaldo has demonstrated himself wholly unreliable in gracefully accepting a diminished role.

In any case, the loss of Liverpool striker Diogo Jota to injury somewhat inhibits Portugal’s options for an attacking re-think. And the likelihood of any manager hitting reset on his entire setup at this late hour seems remote, even in circumstances less at the mercy of one player’s planet-sized ego.

And so, there is little more than a day until the World Cup curtain call in Ronaldo’s 117-goal international career, a final few hours for Santos to ponder how he will help shape it.

Does he keep faith in his talisman to produce one final hurrah? Or has the time finally come for Portugal’s leading man to join the supporting cast, whether he likes it or not?