You can read and hear a number of explanations for the transformation of Cristiano Ronaldo into an absolute football phenomenon. However, the new book Messi vs. Ronaldo: One Rivalry, Two GOATs, and the Era That Remade the World’s Game focuses on the exact moment a talented young Premier League star began his journey to the top.
The cringe-inducing event is, at first glance, nothing special – a red card on the South Coast against Portsmouth after an indiscretion and a month-long suspension. But Ronaldo used the time off the pitch brilliantly to return with the motivation of a goalscoring gladiator.
The catalyst for the incredible change happened at Fratton Park on 15th August 2007.
It’s been a disappointing start to the campaign for Manchester United and the team are on course for a second consecutive draw after being held to a first leg draw with Reading at Old Trafford.
With the score 1:1, Ronaldo’s anger peaked and the Portuguese clashed with the Scottish international of the “Pomps” Richard Hughes in the 85th minute. The tension quickly escalated and the youngster rammed his head into the midfielder’s face.
Making the most of the situation, Hughes artistically grabs his forehead, knowing that his opponent may be down a man. The incident took place near referee Steve Bennett, who sent Ronaldo off for the second time in his career. The previous season, Cristiano earned a ban for a tackle on Devils legend Andy Cole, who now plays for city rivals Manchester City.
Sir Alex Ferguson is furious with the Portuguese, but is powerless to change the three-match suspension that they stick to his “week”. And the meetings are not at all easy – a derby with Manchester City and clashes with Tottenham and Sunderland.
There is also an international break for the national teams after the game at home to the Black Cats, meaning Ronaldo is out for a whole month until it’s time to face Everton at Goodison Park in mid-September.
As the book states, Ronaldo began individual training and did not travel for United’s visits. He follows a personal program all the time and is practically excommunicated from the team. Skips both tactic debriefings and recovery sessions.
With free time in abundance, the player decided to start working with Fergie’s assistant Renee Muhlenstein on his finishing shot.
The Dutchman constantly criticizes him that the main flaw in his game is that he cares more about the beauty of his goals than the number of them. And Ronaldo decides to trust him.
Mullensteen made him watch clips of former Manchester United strikers like Eric Cantona and Ruud van Nistelrooy, as well as other goalscoring greats. The two then go out on the practice field and the coach makes him repeat what he saw.
“Muhlensteen devised a series of kicking drills for him to make him rethink his position on the pitch and show him how to score from different angles in and around the penalty area. Made a special map of the pitch and goal to categorize each type of finisher shot. Focusing was concentrated on three different locations – frontal in front of the goal (zone 1), either side of the goal (zone 2) and outside the penalty area (zone 3), as well as nine different areas of the goal,” the book says.
Ronaldo’s enthusiasm is inexhaustible, and often Mullensteen, arriving at the base in Carrington, finds the footballer waiting for him outside his office door.
The intensity of the training is such that the Dutchman estimates that Ronaldo scored over 5,000 goals in the month they trained together.
“His whole thinking about the finishing shot changed,” Rene told the authors. “It went from ‘I want to score the goal of the season’ to ‘I want to become a goal machine.’
The striker’s results, both short-term and long-term, speak volumes. After scoring 17 Premier League goals the previous season, Ronaldo finished the 2007/08 campaign with 31 and a total of 42 in all competitions.
With countless trophies and personal bests under his belt, Cristiano is recognized by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics as the greatest goalscorer in the history of football with 813 goals to date.
And much of that is down to Mullensteen and that red card at Fratton Park more than 15 years ago.