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Resources Sep 17, 2013

Former coach gives behind-the-scenes glimpse of Cristiano Ronaldo’s rise to greatness

We often look at the world’s greatest players and marvel at the god-given talent that makes them special. Players like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Abby Wambach sometimes seem to be constructed out of a different cloth, some rare material that enables them to defy the harsh realities of everyday life.

And that’s certainly true on some level. But it really comes down to careful planning and hard, hard work – lots of it.

That’s the lesson former Manchester United coach Rene Meulensteen shared with British journalist Henry Winter, who recently spoke to the veteran Dutch trainer for the Telegraph about the endless labor that went into Ronaldo’s breakthrough 2007-08 season in the English Premier League and UEFA Champions League.

An influential member of Man United’s staff for many years until manager Alex Ferguson retired at the close of last season, Meulensteen’s conversation with Winter makes for fascinating reading for coaches, players and anyone interested in learning about the daily quest for self-improvement that goes on at the game’s highest levels.

Cristiano Ronaldo (who now plays for Spanish superclub Real Madrid) was already a major star at that point, known around the world for his skill, speed and good looks. But both he and his coaches saw that he still held unfulfilled potential, and set about maximizing it.

“I knew what Ronaldo wanted. He wanted to be the best player in the world,” explains Meulensteen. “I told him: ‘I can help you with that. There’s nothing wrong with your work ethic, it’s a wave pushing you forward.’ So I drew this diagram for him, pointing out his details as a player.

“There’s the ‘tactical’ bit, awareness, understanding, decision-making. There’s the ‘physical’ — everyone has his peak fitness, especially Ronaldo, his pace, strength, stamina and agility. There’s the ‘personality,’ winning mentality and attitude. The last bit is ‘technical,’ the basics, passing, shooting, moves, turns, and other skills to dominate the one to one. I asked Ronaldo: ‘Where are you good at?’ He said: ‘Skills.’ ‘OK, so with one-touch and two-touch play, plus the moves you have, will make you unpredictable and therefore very hard to defend against.’”

Meulensteen and Ronaldo worked on every aspect of his craft, from his goalscoring technique to his ability to anticipate and dodge rough tackles – and even his body language, which, Meulensteen reminded him, was communicating volumes about his attitude to the millions of people watching him on television across the planet.

“Cristiano, I’ve looked at your goals last season, and you only scored 23 because you want to score the perfect goal all the time. ‘Look at me! Top corner!’” said Meulensteen. “The most important individuals are the ones who elevate the team, not themselves. You think it’s the other way round. No, no, no. Elevate the team and the team will then elevate you.’”

Ronaldo went on to score 42 goals, Manchester United won both the EPL and Champions League trophies and the rest, as they say, is history.

+Read Winter’s full story here ]