Former Manchester United midfielder Phil Neville has claimed that his former teammates kicked superstar Cristiano Ronaldo in order to toughen him up and prevent him from diving.
28-year-old Ronaldo, who left the Red Devils in order to join Spanish giants Real Madrid for a then world-record fee of £80 million in 2009, eventually proved to be a truly sensational United signing by iconic former manager Sir Alex Ferguson but initially struggled somewhat to adapt to the physically demanding expectations of Premier League football following his move from Sporting Lisbon in 2003.
In particular, Portuguese Ronaldo developed a notorious reputation during his early years at Old Trafford for diving and attempting to exaggerate contact from opposing defenders.
Former United stalwart Neville, who left for Everton after a decade at United between 1995-2005 but has since returned to the club in a coaching capacity under David Moyes, has claimed that a number of senior first-team players kicked Ronaldo frequently during training sessions in a bid to toughen him up and attempt to eradicate diving from his game.
"He dived a lot," he told ITV. "He tried to buy fouls and he came in for a lot of criticism. The boys [at Man Utd] were hard on him for his diving and it was putting us under pressure.
"I'd say the first 12 months there was a massive toughening up process. In training at the time you had Keane, Butt, Scholes, and every time he got the ball they kicked him and they kicked him – not just once, they kicked him every day, every week, all season."
Ronaldo, who recently signed a financially-lucrative extension to his contract at the Santiago Bernabeu, was powerless to prevent Carlo Ancelotti's Real outfit from falling to a humiliating 1-0 home defeat at the hand of cross-city rivals Atletico on Saturday evening.