Rio Ferdinand has recalled how Ruud van Nistelrooy’s ‘circus’ comment helped trigger Cristiano Ronaldo into becoming one of the world’s best.
Ronaldo arrived at Manchester United as a talented but raw teenager from Sporting Lisbon and initially impressed fans with his fleet-footed style, though the winger lacked end product and his tendency to showboat irked his senior teammates.
The Portugal international memorably endured a fractious relationship with Ruud van Nistelrooy, and Ferdinand has revealed how one training ground jibe from the Dutch forward resulted in a change of mentality for the talented teenager.
Van Nistelrooy criticised Ronaldo’s footwork and commented that the winger belonged in a ‘circus’ rather than on the pitch given his penchant for flicks and tricks, an incident which helped trigger a transformation in the youngster.
Ronaldo’s game soon became focused on statistics as he developed into arguably the world’s best player over six seasons with the Red Devils, winning the first of his five career Ballon d’Ors with the club before moving to Real Madrid in a world-record deal and becoming the Spanish giant’s greatest ever goalscorer.
Ferdinand believes the treatment handed to Ronaldo by the senior professionals at Manchester United provided him with the foundation and determination to become one of the game’s all-time greats.
“It didn’t happen instantly but he was unbelievably skilful and he was there to entertain the crowd,” Ferdinand said on BT Sport. “He loved doing skills.
“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 [Van Nistelrooy] 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 said and 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 Beckham’ and you could see him thinking, ‘How can I derail them?'”
Ronaldo’s career has been one of almost unprecedented success with the forward having recently become the greatest goalscorer the game has seen, netting his 760th career goal as Juventus beat Napoli in the Italian Super Cup earlier this month.
Ferdinand has hailed the mindset of a player who has reached incredible levels, outlining Ronaldo’s obsession with winning and becoming the best.
“About mindset, I don’t know a stronger, more determined, obsessed player that I’ve shared a changing room with,” Ferdinand said.
“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.”