How Walter Smith's training plan sparked Cristiano Ronaldo transformation at Man United

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Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United during a training session held at the Carrington Training Complex on September 16, 2008 in Carrington, England
Photo: Alex Livesey/GETTY IMAGES

Former Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher has revealed how an unusual training method from Walter Smith played a key role in Cristiano Ronaldo's early development.

The Portuguese superstar joined United from Sporting Lisbon as an 18-year-old in 2003 and immediately showed glimpses of his talent.

Speaking to The Lockdown Tactics, Fletcher said Ronaldo was by no means the finished article during his early days at Old Trafford.

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 learnt English so quick, he was 18, he did extra training every day, he was the first player to go and get a personal chef. He brought in ankle weights to train in so in a game he felt sharper when he took the ankle weights off.

What a guy. He was determined to be the best player in the world. When you see his ability... yeah, he was frustrating in the beginning, he was a young skinny lad, the dedication and effort he put in, the single-mindedness to go and become the best player in the world.

Listen, he had a tough time as well in the dressing room. 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.

Ex-Scotland and Rangers coach Smith came in as Sir Alex Ferguson's assistant for the back-end of the 2003-04 season, and would deliberately not blow for fouls on Ronaldo in training, aiming to make the winger better at using the ball more efficiently.

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.

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