Donny van de Beek has had no starts in Manchester United’s first seven Premier League games this campaign, and a total of six minutes played. That is not the correct way to treat a good football player with so much potential.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s much anticipated return to Manchester United has already experienced some ups and downs through the early weeks of the season.
The Portuguese announced his comeback when United defeated Newcastle United 4-1 with Ronaldo scoring twice, but the collective at United though have since struggled for consistency.
In a summer transfer window which will be etched into the memory for years to come, Ronaldo’s move was possibly the most dramatic to occur. His return to the club he left 12 years ago took on a heightened sense of moral dialogue as former boss Sir Alex Ferguson was called upon, along with some of his ex-teammates to help persuade Ronaldo to sign with United rather than with their cross-city rivals Manchester City.
Ronaldo’s relationship with United runs much deeper than just what he achieved on the field, though, as the club helped shaped him into not only the phenomenal athlete he has become but also the man he has developed into.
His character and professional discipline to his craft can be traced back to the time when he first signed for United as a skinny fleet footed winger. The man who oversaw this development was none other than Ferguson himself who rewarded the precocious teenager with the famous No.7 jersey when he signed.
This bestowing of such a significant number on one so young showcased the immense belief Ferguson had in a talented but still unrefined player. The No.7 at United has always carried a special significance with individuals such as George Best, Bryan Robson and David Beckham all wearing the shirt with distinction and class.
Ronaldo’s model looks and ability to change a match with one moment of genius had him unsurprisingly compared to the late great George Best in his first stint with United.
The tragic passing of Best to alcoholism highlighted a character who struggled with the bright lights of football fame. Ronaldo contrastingly has used pressure and expectation as a driving force throughout his career wherein his performance has rarely wavered under the highest scrutiny.
Ronaldo has described Ferguson as the most important individual in his football career and admitted he played a significant part in his return to United.
“For me, Sir Alex Ferguson is like a father in football for me. I really like him a lot and he was the main key for me to be in the position that I am, that I signed for Manchester United,” said Cristiano.
One of the most significant moments in the Ferguson and Ronaldo relationship occurred in 2005 when Ronaldo’s father passed. Ferguson allowed the young prodigy time away from the team to be with his father, with Ronaldo explaining the importance of this moment on the BBC documentary, Sir Alex Ferguson: Secrets of Success in 2015.
“I had a conversation with him [Ferguson] and I said: ‘Boss, I don’t feel good.’
“We are in a key moment in the Champions League, and I said I don’t feel good and I wanna see my dad.
“He said: ‘Cristiano – you wanna go one day, two days, one week? You can go. I’m going to miss you here because you are important, but your daddy is the [priority].’
“When he told me that, I feel like this guy is unbelievable. He the father of football for me.”
This moment signified an important shift in the relationship between both men as Ferguson transitioned from club manager into both a mentor and father figure for the young Ronaldo.
The importance of no singular player being larger than the club played a decisive role in the way Ferguson managed, which was highlighted when David Beckham and Roy Keane were sold after he believed their individual presence was having a detrimental effect on the collective.
Ronaldo’s relationship with Ferguson did not make him immune from the famous Fergie “hairdryer” treatment, however. One such occasion came in a Champions League match between United and Benfica where Ronaldo was desperate to excel against the rival of his former club Sporting that he made the classic mistake of letting the occasion get to him.
“The game became The Cristiano Ronaldo Show,” Rio Ferdinand explained in his autobiography. “He was trying to show his skills and nothing was coming off. We lost and afterwards the manager absolutely destroyed him. ‘Playing by yourself? Who the hell do you think you are?'”
One theory in the dressing room was that, if Ferguson could turn on Ronaldo, it was a warning to everyone. “It was Ferguson’s way of saying to the whole team: it doesn’t matter who you are, you’d better perform in the right way’,” Ferdinand recalled.
Ronaldo throughout his career has been criticised from certain quarters about his obsession around individual records and accolades. But this has never taken away from his desire to win and be part of the team ethos, with past and present teammates reiterating the outstanding person he is and the generous nature he demonstrates, especially with the younger members of whichever group he finds himself involved with.
Former teammate Owen Hargreaves, who played alongside Ronaldo when United won the Champions League in 2008, reiterated this sentiment: “Cristiano Ronaldo is the most naturally gifted football player I have seen outside of Messi, but his dedication to his craft is equal to his talent.
“I think he is going to be the hugest influence on Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial to show that next generation this is what it takes.”
This selfless nature was developed as a young player wherein Ferguson and senior members of the United squad helped shape a footballer whose mentality is just as impressive as his chiselled physique.
Cristiano’s mental strength and resilience can be traced right back to his childhood where teammates used to taunt him due to his father’s poor job as the kit-man at Ronaldo’s then club, Andorinha. This built inside Ronaldo an indestructible determination to succeed and rise above those who doubted him.
The deep respect and trust both Ferguson and Ronaldo had for each other was demonstrated after Ronaldo won the Champions League with United in 2008 and requested that he be allowed to move to Real Madrid.
Ronaldo’s dream had always been to don the famous white jersey of Madrid and after United’s European success believed this was the perfect time to turn his dream into a reality. Ferguson persuaded him to stay one more year and promised to grant him his transfer to Madrid the season after.
Ronaldo respected this request by Ferguson and he led United to another Champions League final and Premier League title.
The modern-day rivalry between Ronaldo and Messi highlights two men who have experienced strong and outstanding leadership in their early developmental years.
Ronaldo under Ferguson and Messi under Pep Guardiola both helped shape the consistency and outstanding scoring records each have achieved through their careers to date. The prodigies tipped to take over from these two have long been at the feet of Neymar and, more recently, Kylian Mbappe.
The time seems to have passed for Neymar, though, as his elevation into the class of Ronaldo and Messi has never been realised in a career which has been highlighted by inconsistency and lack of a strong mentor. Mbappe still has age on his side but the early indication is that, for all the immense talent, the need for leadership around Mbappe is crucial if he is to grow as a footballer and person, both on and off the field.
Ronaldo may not prove to be the magic cure to United’s recent trophy woes, but one thing is for certain: it will not be through a lack of effort or desire for a footballer who continues to defy his age and doubters.