Former Manchester United power development trainer Mick Clegg has offered an insight into Cristiano Ronaldo’s work on his physique and relentless march towards perfection in his younger years at the club.
Ronaldo initially arrived at Old Trafford from Sporting CP for £12 million in 2003 at the age of 18 and, over the next six years, he managed to make an indelible mark on English football.
The Portuguese scored over 100 goals for United while winning three Premier League titles and the Champions League, before departing for Real Madrid.
Ronaldo went on to enjoy even greater success in Spain and also took in a trophy-laden spell at Juventus before completing his long-awaited return to Old Trafford last summer.
Clegg recalls how much the forward stood out from his peers during his first spell in Manchester, and has rejected the notion that he underwent a major physical transformation before reaching his prime.
“I never saw a scrawny kid,” Clegg, who worked with Ronaldo between 2003 and 2009, told . “That kid had a fantastic physique, a fantastic ability to move. All he needed was time. People sometimes ask for ‘Cristiano’s routine’, his chest routine or whatever, but what are they talking about? It’s five and a half years. It was five and a half years of the hardest work I’ve ever seen from any athlete ever.
“It was never scrawny, what he wanted to do was get the right amount of the strength, the power, the skill, the cognitive processes, and all these things then come together. But it’s also about confidence.”
Clegg added on how Ronaldo gradually improved his decision making and execution in the final third of the pitch: “You can see how it came together for him. Some players practice something and then take it into a game, and if it doesn’t work, they’ll never use it again.
“Cristiano practises something, then he’ll take it into training games, then take it into a game against teams at the bottom of the league, and he would hone his skills there.
“He wouldn’t use it in the big games against Chelsea or whoever until he was confident with it. And he never, ever lost confidence he could make whatever he’s working on work.
“That’s why he got so many people shouting at him. He’s this, he’s that – no. He was working on an apprenticeship. It was about working to get perfection.”
How is Ronaldo’s homecoming season going?
United supporters gave Ronaldo a rousing reception in his first game back at Old Trafford against Newcastle on September 11, 2021.
The 37-year-old marked the occasion by scoring twice, and has since continued to show that his instincts in front of goal remain as sharp as ever.
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Ronaldo has hit a total of 18 goals in 33 appearances across all competitions so far this season, including a stunning .
His form has done little to help United progress as a collective, though, as they are now guaranteed to extend their trophyless run to five seasons and have a real fight on their hands to secure Champions League qualification.