Phelan reveals Ronaldo ‘frustration’ at Man Utd as ‘opinionated’ striker was different ‘second time round’

Joe Williams
Former Man Utd striker Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo left Old Trafford in November by mutual consent.

Former Manchester United assistant manager Mike Phelan has claimed that Cristiano Ronaldo was “a lot more opinionated” in his second spell at Old Trafford.

The Portugal international left at the end of November 2022 after agreeing to a controversial interview with Piers Morgan, in which he criticised his manager, the owners, former players and other elements of the club.

That saw Man Utd agree to terminate his contract and Ronaldo sealed a move to Saudi Arabian side Al-Nassr, where he has scored 26 goals in 30 matches.

There were rumours during his second spell at Man Utd that Ronaldo was negatively impacting the dressing room but Phelan has explained that it was just his drive for high standards which produced “frustration”.

“The second time round, he came in a lot older and a lot more opinionated, strong-willed,” Phelan told Sky Sports. “He still had massively high standards and was terrific to work with. But I’d probably say a tougher mindset. He had been at Man Utd, he had been Portugal’s ever-present, he had been at Madrid.

“I liked it because he didn’t want his standards to drop, he wanted other people’s standards to come up. And sometimes you lose a few people along the way when that happens. I remember certain times when he pushed and pushed hard, and he didn’t get much reaction or much response. And there was frustration.

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“When you deal with top, top people, it’s about them and where they can finish and where they can get to. They want to look back and go ‘wow, that was successful’. And he probably realised, and I don’t know as I never had that conversation with him, that he couldn’t do it at Manchester United. So his challenges were elsewhere.

“He’s still playing international football, yes he’s in Saudi Arabia, but he’s still playing and scoring goals. He is doing all the things we knew he could do at Manchester United.

“But a really good personality, hard-working and challenging. He challenged me as a coach, Carlos Queiroz as a coach and Sir Alex [Ferguson] as a manager. But that’s good because it takes you to another level.”

On Ronaldo’s first spell at the club, Phelan added: “The first time, the challenging part was that Cristiano came to Manchester United knowing in his own mind that he was going to be the best in the world. He had one ball under his hand and the team had another.

“And this was a young kid, one who came from Portugal and was made there, and made that sacrifice to come away from that, where he was comfortable, to a club like Manchester United and learn everything from an English and British perspective.

“He had all the skillset, the mentality – but what we tried to do with [former assistant manager] Carlos Queiroz was we tried to integrate him into the team and he responded brilliantly. His work ethic and practice was fantastic and it rubbed off on the players. They knew there was someone special there.

“In that environment, with the standards so high, the players knew this guy could take them where they needed to go and to go again. He did that brilliantly.”