The former Red Devils defender claims a Portuguese superstar changed his mentality following accusations of being a show pony
Rio Ferdinand has revealed that Cristiano Ronaldo’s meteoric rise to the top of the world game was helped on its way by a training ground jibe from Ruud van Nistelrooy that suggested a Portuguese show pony belonged “in the circus”.
A man who has gone on to cement a standing as an all-time great was a starry-eyed teenager when working alongside more established performers at Manchester United.
Ronaldo, who had been snapped up by Sir Alex Ferguson from Sporting CP, was a tricky winger at that stage, with his game all about flicks, tricks and embarrassing opponents.
In time he learned how to offer greater end product, becoming one of the greatest goalscorers to ever play the game, with a relentless desire to be the best allowing him to collect win the Ballon d’Or five times.
Ferdinand witnessed the start of that ascent, with the former United defender admitting that the odd argument behind the scenes at Old Trafford helped to toughen Ronaldo up and narrow his focus on what really mattered.
“It didn’t happen instantly but he was unbelievably skilful and he was there to entertain the crowd. He loved doing skills,” Ferdinand told BT Sport.
“He used to get snapped in training but I remember one time, I think it was a good moment for him but he didn’t take it too well. Ruud was the man at United at the time. He was the man who scored all the goals.
“Ronaldo had the ball wide and was doing tricks and Ruud was making the run in the box, Ronaldo didn’t pass and Ruud went crazy, screaming: ‘He should be in the circus, he shouldn’t be on the pitch’. Ruud walked in, off the training pitch, and Ronaldo got upset and angry – ‘why is he talking to me like that?’.
“He was 18 or 19 at the time. Some kids would’ve gone under and lost confidence. Some would’ve kept doing the same but Ronaldo knew that Ruud might be right and then it became all about numbers, about statistics, goals. What is going to make him the best player in the world?
“We used to say to him, take the mick out of him and say ‘you are not the real No.7 at the club, you’ve got George Best and David Beckham’ and you could see him thinking, ‘how can I derail them?’”
Ferdinand added on a man who went on to score 118 goals for United before heading to Spain in 2009 for a record-breaking spell at Real Madrid: “About mindset, I don’t know a stronger, more determined, obsessed player that I’ve shared a changing room with.
“I was fortunate to watch him go from a boy to a man over a few years and him affecting training sessions. He was absolutely obsessed with winning a training session and scoring the last goal.”
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