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Walter Smith Credited For Transforming Cristiano Ronaldo During Early Days At Manchester United

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Walter Smith Credited For Transforming Cristiano Ronaldo During Early Days At Manchester United

Walter Smith has been credited for playing a key role in Cristiano Ronaldo's early development at Manchester United.

It was announced on Tuesday morning that former Scotland, Rangers and Everton manager Smith had sadly died at the age of 73 after battling illness for months.

The Gers legend enjoyed a magnificent coaching career which included a short spell as Sir Alex Ferguson's assistant towards the end of the 2003/04 campaign.

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During his time at Old Trafford, he helped United lift an FA Cup after they beat Millwall in the final and on that day, a teenage Cristiano Ronaldo found himself on the scoresheet.

Ronaldo, of course, went on to become one of the all-time greats but at the start of his career in Manchester, he would frustrate teammates. The teenager had the skills and tricks but lacked an end product in front of goal.

That would soon change when Walter Smith decided to introduce a new rule in training. It helped the young Portuguese flourish.

Image credit: PA
Image credit: PA
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Former Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher spoke about Smith's influence.

Richard Keys, who was joined by Fletcher on his show for BeINSPORTS in 2020, asked: "Many described Ronaldo as a circus act in the early days. What changed? Or who changed him?"

Fletcher responded, saying: "You could see this charismatic kid, you could see the ability, you could see the drive to become the best player in the world.

"But he frustrated the life out of everybody. Everyone thought if he could learn...

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"Eventually, Walter Smith came in and decided not to give fouls in training.

"In general, I think the sole purpose was for Ronaldo. So when Ronaldo was doing his skills, not passing the ball and taking the mick, the lads were fouling him.

"Before, the first six months of the season, there'd be fouls given as you'd expect, and Walter said: 'No, no fouls'.

"For two weeks Ronaldo was tearing his hair out and he was going bananas. Open season. Hit him.

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"What happens after a few weeks? Ronaldo starts moving the ball because he's sick of getting kicked. Now, he starts playing one or two-touch and running, now he starts getting goals.

"Now it starts clicking in his head: 'I'm starting to score more goals, now I'm starting to make an impact in games'.

"That was the beginning of Ronaldo's transition."

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Sir Alex Ferguson paid tribute to Smith on Tuesday as he remembered his short spell as assistant manager at Old Trafford.

"I am absolutely devastated," Ferguson told United's in-house media.

"Walter was a special person. He fought his illness with great courage. He was a great friend of mine for years and years, I had him as my assistant at United in 2004 and he was also my assistant when Scotland went to the World Cup in 1986.

"In all that time you were dealing with a man with great moral compass in how he lived his life and the friendship he offered so many people. His contribution to football with Dundee United, Rangers, Scotland, Everton and Man United was immense.

"He was only at United a short time, but he was fantastic. I lost Carlos Queiroz to Real Madrid and I knew I needed an assistant so I phoned Walter about it and he came for six months and helped us win the FA Cup against Millwall.

"He had a wonderful connection with people because he was a great listener, that was one of his greatest qualities.

"He listened and showed an interest in people and helped everyone he could. It's such a loss to the game and to everyone that knew him. I send my sincere condolences to his wife Ethel and his two sons Neil and Steven. I'll miss him greatly."

Featured Image Credit: PA

Topics: Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson, Premier League, Cristiano Ronaldo

Jack Kenmare
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