Cristiano Ronaldo and Sir Alex Ferguson: ‘More than a game’ – a phrase that is often used to describe football by the ardent supporters of the sport. A game that is more than kicking a ball into the back of the net and drawing out tactics on how to do so. In the game of football, tactics, training and preparation are intermingled with leadership, communication and human relations.
A combination of these factors help a club win titles, retain titles, grow its fan following and become a favourite in the community. A top club not only sets role models for future generations with their on-the-pitch display but also with their off the pitch activity and operations. At the centre of it all is of course the footballers.
These footballers need a guide, a mentor, a friend, a trainer and more importantly, a person who can bring the best out of them and the players look for all these qualities in their managers. Every player wants to develop and it’s up to the manager to find out the right buttons to press in the player to make that happen. The managers who have been able to do so in the past have produced iconic footballers and have given birth to some of the most legendary player-manager duos that include Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff, Marcello Lippi and Alessandro Del Piero, Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola, Arsene Wenger and Dennis Bergkamp, Jose Mourinho and Frank Lampard.
One of the examples of this is also Sir Alex Ferguson and Cristiano Ronaldo. An 18-year old Ronaldo was one of the most wanted youngsters in world football back in 2003. The clubs such as Arsenal, Barcelona were all showing interest to bring him in. In this situation, Sir Alex Ferguson stepped up his pursuit of the young Portuguese winger. During Manchester United’s friendly against Sporting Lisbon, he talked to Ronaldo and his agent and made Ronaldo feel needed at the club. Despite knowing the complicacy of the deal, Sir Alex did not lie to Ronaldo and told him that he might not play every game but if he was good enough, the manager would not stop him from playing every game.
The words worked like a charm and Ronaldo made the move to England. Thus began the journey of this iconic duo. The foundation of their relationship was built on trust, communication, openness and honesty. Ronaldo respected Sir Alex for being honest with him regarding the expectations during their little chat in Lisbon and Sir Alex completely believed in Ronaldo’s abilities as he handed him the infamous number 7 shirt of Manchester United despite Ronaldo wanting the number 28.
Cristiano was no stranger to leaving his house to play football as he had to do so just at the age of 12 to play and live in Lisbon. But making a move to Manchester was not the same. Being surrounded by star players such as Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane and others upon arriving at the club was quite overwhelming for a young player like him. Six Alex was quick to recognize that as he kept on calling Ronaldo to his office alongside the translator to make Ronaldo feel comfortable and even helped him to shift his whole family to Manchester as Ferguson understood the importance of having the family around Cristiano to help him settle down swiftly.
Ronaldo made his Manchester United debut against Bolton Wanderers in 2003 when he came on as a substitute. The crowd loved what he had to offer and thereon, it was just an uphill curve for Cristiano. Just like Sir Alex promised before the move happened, he started to give Ronaldo more and more starts and game time as the Portuguese kept on delivering match-winning performances. This trust further solidified their bond as Ronaldo also later mentioned, “Since day one, everything that he told me, he did it”.
One such instance was again seen a few years later when Ronaldo’s father was sick and was admitted to a hospital in London. Despite having tough games in the league and in the UEFA Champions League, Sir Alex allowed Ronaldo to leave to visit his father and spend time with his family during this difficult phase of his life. According to Sir Alex, the family is the most important thing in a player’s life and it is certainly more important than a football club. This incident once again proved the trust between them and made Cristiano Ronaldo believe that he had found his ‘football father’ in Sir Alex Ferguson.
Cristiano Ronaldo: "For me, Sir Alex Ferguson is like a father in football for me." 🥺 pic.twitter.com/8te5sWzcDQAdvertisement
— GOAL (@goal) September 1, 2021
He played under Ferguson for six seasons and helped the club win three Premier League titles and one UEFA Champions League trophy. In 2009, when an offer to play for Real Madrid arrived, Sir Alex did not stop him from joining his dream club. That put an end to their professional relationship but their off the field bonding was far from over. Sir Alex showed up to congratulate Ronaldo during various important moments of his career that included the memorable exchange between them after Portugal was named the European champions in 2016. Ronaldo has also returned the favour multiple times over the years by showing up during Ferguson’s time of need including him visiting Sir Alex and wishing him well when he fell sick a few years ago.
Reunited in Manchester 🔴
⏪ Flashback to Cristiano Ronaldo and Sir Alex Ferguson after the EURO 2016 final 🥰 pic.twitter.com/OEfPEUL3Qp
— UEFA EURO 2024 (@EURO2024) August 31, 2021Advertisement
After more than a decade, the prodigal son has returned to the Theatre of Dreams. Sir Alex Ferguson may no longer be in the dugout but he is still very much present at the club. The respect and trust between them have never weakened as Ferguson once said, “Ronaldo is my boy” and Cristiano has also previously called Sir Alex the best manager he has ever had. One last dance may still be pending as the ambitious Portuguese conqueror is willing to give his all to win trophies with Manchester United again to make his ‘Boss’ proud.