Ronaldo needed this to reach the next level - Meulensteen

Balon d'Or winners like Cristiano Ronaldo are the best for a reason; talent backed by an almost obsessive work ethic. They respect advice - even if it highlights flaws! Dutch technical master Rene Meulensteen's assignment was to take a good player and make him a great one; he did it with record-breaking effect.



Setting the standard


From the first day he arrived at Old Trafford, Cristiano Ronaldo was identified as something special. Goalscoring feats at Real Madrid & Juventus paint the picture of an unstoppable 'natural' goalscorer. As with most things in the game, you get out what you put in. This was the mantra of the most successful coach in Manchester United's history alongside Sir Alex Ferguson, Rene Meulensteen.


Ronaldo_skips_past_a_defender_during_a_premier_league_game_training_football4footballRAW TALENT: Ronaldo burst onto the Premier League scene but needed to fine-tune his early potential.


Meulensteen, the knowledgeable Dutchman, was assigned to take every 1st team training session during his tenure 2nd time around; by choice, he also took time out to help the players who wanted to add some gloss to their game. That takes some doing when you're dealing with some of the best players the Premier League has ever seen. One player who benefited the most from secret 1-on-1 tutorials was none other than Cristiano Ronaldo. How they were set-up has seen coaches with differing beliefs, question why elite players should be doing drills. Too rigid, not realistic, needs more pressurised environments are some of their cries. 

You need to wrap that skill development up in a different sort of way. You need to be more specific, in relation to their position.
On 1-2-1 training with 1st team
Meulensteen exclusively to football4football


Cristiano Ronaldo's extraordinary skills were not yet fully developed; he was either going to be a coach's dream or their worst nightmare. The abilities he displayed were breathtaking, housed inside a progressing physique equipped for the modern game. So, what was there to fear? He was a young player who had not quite got to grips with piecing together a fully effective game and yet was very aware, that he was a 'bit of a big deal'.  


Wayne_Rooney_and_Rene_Meulensteen_talk_during_a_Manchester_United_training_session_football4footballINDIVIDUAL DEVELOPMENT: Wayne Rooney was another established player to benefit from 1-2-1 sessions with Meulensteen.


New era


A club of Manchester United's stature can either raise or destroy a player before they know it. More often than not,  young players don't take well to instruction, ignorant exuberance is generally their mentor, and that is just for average players. For someone like Ronaldo, who was already tearing up the Premier League, it would have been easy to think that all he had to do was put on a pair of boots for things to happen. However, he was one of the few along with England's best young player at the time, Wayne Rooney that listened and took critique to improve. 


Alex_Ferguson_and_rene_meulensteen_watch_a_premier_league_game_from_the_manchester_united_benchTEAM: Ferguson trusted Meulensteen with every aspect of technically improving his Manchester United squad.

Sir Alex was, of course, noted for his preference to have 'a chat' with prospective targets, a bit of a getting to know what drives the individual session. To be thrive in the elite game players have to want to win. Not just have a positive attitude to do this but the desire to personally impact its probability. Ferguson had assembled a dressing room of individuals who had professional pride and accountability for the single purpose of winning. Team training sessions were high tempo. Match paced games with everything done as if 3 points were up for grabs.  

New players entering that environment had to fall into line. Ronaldo's introduction to the English Premier League was one with many eye rolls and moments of sheer frustration. He and was targeted by pundits for going to ground a tad too easily and raising the brows of team-mates for 'overdoing it' on the ball. Realistically though, inside the corridors of Carrington, they were beginning to see a boy who had a desire to impress and more importantly, excel.

Cristiano always said he wanted to be the best player in the world.
Ex - Manchester United defender
John O'Shea exclusively to football4football


The football landscape had changed much since Sir Alex guided star pupils like Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. To become a champion, psychological devices of the past needed refining for the young Portuguese to fulfil his undoubted potential. A technical polish was also required - enter Rene Meuelensteen.


Ronaldo is the best that I have played with and the best I have ever played against
Manchester United legend
Nemanja Vidic to football4football


Fergie had long accepted that he had maximum effect when staying at a managerial distance; therefore,  he entrusted Meulensteen with the task to prepare his squad on the training pitch. The Dutchman, renowned for thoroughness, picked out the smallest areas of concern that other coaches probably let slide. This was not only down to him having an eye for detail but also the conviction to confront players with their shortcomings.  

Manchester United played some fantastic attacking football during Ronaldo's time there but he was seen as not fully taking chances in front of goal. Well, not as many as he could have anyway. Other 'true' strikers back then, like Ruud van Nistelrooy, always wanted to make keepers work and hit the net in any fashion possible.

Many were under the impression, Cristiano only craved goal of the month contenders, bypassing simple finishes for wonder goals. Don't get it wrong - Ronaldo was doing some pretty impressive things and could easily have been left to his own devices to see 'how things developed'. That was not in Rene's remit, though.


Rene_Meulensteen_strikes_a_ball_during_a_Manchester_United_pre_match_warm_up_football4footballWATCH AND LISTEN: Meulensteen communicated his message for technical improvements to the most senior of players.




Rene took Ronaldo aside to plot a path to achieve consistent efficiency. His previous best haul was an impressive 23 goals in a season prior to individualised coaching interventions. Instead of Ronaldo doing what he had done before, just trying to smash it in, Rene steered him to appreciate the full dimensions of the goal. Now, his approach was not one that typically befits players out of their development phase - it could be argued players are ALWAYS developing. 


The best players in the world STILL require drills of skill acquisition prior to effective matchplay execution.
Benefits of doing unopposed training practices
The football4football training team


Credit to the player here, he took the observations on board and underwent extra training centred around controlled finishing. High-speed sprints with sharp movements at pace and decelerations with considered targeting of goal scoring options. Drill after drill, with no opposition, was done. Standard squad training develops shape and cohesion but the best players work at their assets. The player who Ronaldo replaced in the United No.7 shirt Beckham, worked religiously on free-kicks and his delivery.

It's a misconception that professional players are above developing mastering individual skills. All technical movements with the ball need to be carried out in a progressive way in order to be fully integrated into a players game. Even for the best players in the world that can mean going around cones and markers before opponents.  In the case of Cristiano Ronaldo, repetitive hard work paid off with a season that saw him break the 40 goal barrier; something Meulensteen predicted. 


Cristiano_Ronaldo_shows_his_best_player_in_the_world_award_football4footballWINNER: Ronaldo's continued progress has seen him win multiple Balon d'Or awards.

Although Ronaldo already was one of the top players in Europe at that time, he strived for improvement. Meulensteen developed a philosophy but, more importantly, translated it with conviction and proof with outstanding results. Nonetheless, it still needed Cristiano's buy-in and winning attitude to stretch himself. This same attitude has seen him go on to do great things when at Real Madrid and Juventus; here he concentrated mainly on the improvement of his physical performance, though.

No matter how good the player, there is always room for improvement; that's the great thing about football, you never stop learning. The very top footballers want to take their performances to the next level. It's essential to have coaches with mindsets that challenge themselves and those around them.


Ronaldo_runs_with_the_ball_during_a_match_Serie_A_game_football4footballJUVENTUS STAR: After his transfer from Real Madrid, Ronaldo is still scoring in Serie A.

To BE the best, you have to WANT it. This maybe sounds like an old cliche, but think about how many players you have seen over the years who were candles that shone bright, only to then flicker and fade. The true greats of the game are literally beacons of light that illuminate season after season. This happens by them consistently working on their deficiencies and refining go-to assets to perform. In a day of extreme wealth for the footballing elite, the motivation for the best becomes more apparent and commendable. Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the best examples for the true saying: start as you mean to go on.