Ex-Man Utd coach explains why ‘opinionated’ Cristiano Ronaldo struggled with return to club


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Cristiano Ronaldo was a “lot more opinionated” in his second spell at Old Trafford, which was seemingly a factor that led to the superstar’s premature split from the club at the end of 2022.

United had beaten local rivals Manchester City to Ronaldo’s signature in the summer of 2021 when the five-time Ballon d’Or was ready for a new challenge after three years with Juventus.

Although there were early reports that Ronaldo was quickly frustrated by an apparent drop in standards from the club he had left as a three-time Premier League champion in 2009 to the one he joined 12 years later, he still finished the 2021/22 season as top scorer with 24 goals.

However, United as a team had their worst ever Premier League campaign in terms of final points tally. It was also their fewest number of wins in a league season since 1990 and their most goals conceded in a league season since 1979.

Out of favour with new manager Erik ten Hag seeking to put his own stamp on the club, Ronaldo’s frustrations reached the point of no return in November 2022 and his contract was mutually torn up.

“The second time round, he came in a lot older and a lot more opinionated, strong-willed,” Phelan, who was first-team coach when an 18-year-old Ronaldo first arrived in 2003 and later assistant manager when he returned two years ago, 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. 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. There was frustration.

“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.”

What we know

  • Mike Phelan has lifted the lid on Cristiano Ronaldo’s second Man Utd spell
  • Superstar forward returned aged 36 in 2021, having left 12 years earlier
  • Despite a 24-goal season, things quickly unravelled prior to premature exit

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