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How Sir Alex Ferguson got in Cristiano Ronaldo's head on his return to Old Trafford

How Sir Alex Ferguson got in Cristiano Ronaldo's head on his return to Old Trafford

Ferguson used his psychological powers.

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson used his famous psychological skills to great effect when Cristiano Ronaldo made his return to Old Trafford as a Real Madrid player.

Ferguson was a legend at making mind games work to his advantage, and gave an interview to Harvard University students in 2012 about how to manage the modern player.

The Scot spoke about how players were 'more fragile' at that point compared to previous generations, as a result of leading 'more sheltered lives'.

But his key point was how he took a 'tailored approach' to each individual player - something that worked to great effect during his near 27-year spell in charge at Old Trafford.

One player he coached to become one of the world's elite players was Ronaldo, a precocious 18-year-old winger when he first arrived at the club from Sporting Lisbon in 2003.

He developed an elite mentality to be the best, improved his physicality and, crucially, his all-round play and goal threat.

By the time he left to join Real Madrid in 2009, Ronaldo rivalled Lionel Messi as the best player on the planet - and Ferguson didn't forget anything about his former player when they met again at Old Trafford four years later.

How Sir Alex Ferguson got in Cristiano Ronaldo's head

When United drew Real in a Champions League last 16 tie in 2013, the anticipation for a clash between Ferguson and Ronaldo was on everybody's minds.

What nobody knew at that stage was that the pair would never meet again on a football pitch after the two legs had been completed, with Ferguson retiring from management at the end of that season.

Before the game, Ronaldo was hugged by United kitman Albert Morgan, with the pair knowing each other from the Portuguese legend's first spell at Old Trafford.

Then, when the two teams were read out, Ronaldo's name was last. Of course, he got an incredible reception from the United faithful.

Many believe this could have been a ploy from Ferguson to make life extra difficult for Ronaldo upon his return to his former club. Many also believe it would have worked - were it not for referee Cuneyt Cakir's controversial decision to send off Nani.

Real recovered from 1-0 down after the red card, with Ronaldo scoring the winning goal to secure a 2-1 win and 3-2 success on aggregate.

It wouldn't be his last experience of Old Trafford as an opposition player, with the forward returning as a Juventus player five years later.

Then, of course, came the iconic and much-heralded return to United in 2021 for a second spell in the famous red shirt.

But there was no Ferguson. Many of the coaching staff from 2013 had long departed. In fact, Ronaldo told Piers Morgan in a November 2022 interview that training facilities had barely even been improved since he departed in 2009. A parting of the ways that December felt inevitable.

But while many things have changed since Ferguson - despite the successful ongoing work of Erik ten Hag to improve standards - their lack of achievement prior to last season underlines what a managerial icon the Scot was.

Featured Image Credit: YouTube

Topics: Sir Alex Ferguson, Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Champions League