Former Manchester United star, Darren Fletcher has revealed that the management introduced a no-foul rule in training in order to toughen up Cristiano Ronaldo and help improve his decision making skills.
Another legend in Gary Neville had recently admitted that several United players were frustrated with Ronaldo’s inconsistent performances and end product during the early stages of his career at Old Trafford.
Now, Fletcher has revealed that Walter Smith’s arrival as Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant in 2004 played a key role in Ronaldo’s early development as the Scot’s decision to show a leniency towards fouls meant that the Portuguese winger was forced to move the ball quicker.
While Ronaldo was not too happy with Smith’s rule change, he quickly realised that the move had helped him become a better player.
Fascinating insight from Darren Fletcher.
Discussing the impact Walter Smith had on Cristiano Ronaldo’s development. pic.twitter.com/V9UEKgGPeV
— Euan Booth Robertson (@EuanBRobertson) March 7, 2020
“He [Ronaldo] was probably thankful of coming into that environment because it made him a winner
. Ronaldo, as a young boy, he basically got chucked on a plane after a pre-season game because of how well he played against us and a week later he was in Manchester,” he said to The Lockdown Tactics.
“Walter 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? Basically, the lads tackled you anyway at United, but if you knew there wasn’t going to be a foul. Honestly, it’s amazing how quickly Ronnie started moving the ball and running because he knew he wasn’t going to get a foul, so there was no point hanging on to it.
“And then he started to score more goals and get in more goalscoring positions. Listen, it’s a small little thing but I feel the second half of the season under Walter Smith he made a big step. Don’t get me wrong, he made massive progressions off the back of that. ‘But it was just a small little thing for a few weeks that I remember Ronaldo being absolutely raging about, quickly accepting and then all of a sudden started taking one and two touch and passing and running more without the ball, and started scoring more goals.
The no-foul rule in training certainly paid dividends as Ronaldo went on to become one of the greatest players in the club’s history, scoring 118 goals in 292 appearances and leading them to three consecutive league titles and the 2008 Champions League honour.