Cristiano Ronaldo became a transcendent player at Real Madrid, but it was at Manchester United where he truly developed his craft.
The Portuguese star received a perfect education from Sir Alex Ferguson. Ronaldo’s abilities ensured he was always going to develop into a star, but the ex-United boss gave him that reassurance and treated him with great affection.
But it wasn’t always easy for the three-time Ballon d’Or winner. Ferguson wasn’t afraid to clash with his players and Ronaldo certainly wasn’t excused from criticism.
Phil Neville revealed in 2013 how Roy Keane, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt used to kick Ronaldo in training in order to toughen him up.
Things went even further than that, however. Ronaldo arrived at Old Trafford in 2003 as a raw 18-year-old who was so used to winning matches at Sporting Lisbon on his own.
Ferguson, of course, was having none of it. In a new book titled Cristiano Ronaldo: The Biography, author Guillem Balague explains how the 31-year-old was reduced to tears by the criticism he received from his manager and teammates.
The fiery Scot would attempt to drill into the winger the importance of keeping his shape.
“When we used to play against Arsenal it was imperative that Ronaldo got back into shape,” Neville is quoted as saying in an extract published by Newsweek.
“They had Pires on one side, Ljungberg on the other, we weren’t allowed to have any gaps and in training leading up to the game, the focus was probably on him, particularly in the early years, to keep his shape.”
Fergie reduced Ronaldo to tears
But Ronaldo would often forget his responsibilities. Ferguson eventually reached boiling point.
“In Ronaldo’s first match back on home soil since signing for Manchester United, a Champions League game against Benfica, Ferguson could not contain himself any longer,” Balague writes.
“Things had not gone to plan as the Portuguese team ran out 1–0 winners in Lisbon. The winger, who spent the game trying to prove why he was a Premier League player, had a bad day at the office.
“Ferguson showed no pity.
“‘Who do you think you are? Trying to play by yourself? You’ll never be a player if you do this!’
“Ronaldo began to cry.
“The other players left him be. ‘He needed to learn,’ said [Rio] Ferdinand. ‘That was a message from the team, not just from Ferguson: everyone thought he needed to learn.’
Ferdinand and Fortune teased Ronaldo
“Predictably, the group responded by winding him up. Quinton Fortune and Rio Ferdinand reminded him of the incident a few weeks later.
“‘He’s crying in the changing room again!’”
“‘F*** off! What are you talking about?’”
Ferguson quickly realised that Ronaldo needed to be loved and would always apply the carrot.
“Ferguson had never treated any other player with the same respect and affection as he did Ronaldo,” Balague added.