Cristiano Ronaldo has long been at the top of the footballing tree, but as one of his former Manchester United colleagues remembered, he had to be told a few home truths to give him the impetus to be better.
During training, the Portuguese wonder kid would delight in holding onto the ball and making fools of his United team-mates according to Darren Fletcher, speaking to The Lockdown Tactics and cited by the Daily Star.
“There were times he was holding on to the ball too much and his decision-making wasn’t there yet. He had a tough time, he got told a few home truths,” Fletcher said.
“[…] Walter (Smith) came in and he basically decided to not give fouls in training. I know it was definitely for Ronaldo.
“And the boys were flying into each other and Ronnie was getting lumps kicked out of him. Before, you wouldn’t get soft fouls but you would get a foul, he’d be taking the mick, draw a foul, win it, laugh, get the ball.
“So Walter just decided there were no fouls now in training. Ronaldo for two weeks was going bananas, ‘who’s this Scottish guy? What is this?’.”
It’s a fascinating insight into the mind of arguably one of the greatest talents ever to wear the Man United shirt, and how even the most minuscule of tactical tweaks can make a much more tangible and meaningful difference to a players’ output.
Sir Alex Ferguson has often been credited with being Ronaldo’s ‘father figure,’ the player himself saying as much in a BBC documentary, but it seems clear from the little time that Walter Smith was at the club, he was just as important to the Portuguese’s development.