"Cristiano Ronaldo could play until he's 40 but I don't think he will return to Manchester United", reveals former coach Mick Clegg
- Ex-Man United coach Mick Clegg has heaped praise on Cristiano Ronaldo
- Clegg helped Ronaldo improve his body strength after his move
- He has tipped Ronaldo to carry on playing for another 10 years
- However he believes Ronaldo is happy with life at Real Madrid
He may have the physique of a God and the footballing ability mere mortals can only dream of, but Cristiano Ronaldo's brilliance is all in the brain. The world's best player has turned 30 after a decade at the top. But the man who helped him on the road to greatness sees no reason why he cannot do it until he is 40. After all, he has fulfilled every target in a meticulous self-driven plan to the very top.
Mick Clegg was given the task of helping the shy Portuguese teenager develop into a man worth every penny of the £12million United paid for him in 2003.
If he had a pound every time an 18-year-old told him they were going to become the best player in the world, he would be very rich. However, something about Ronaldo that set him apart. The application and the rigourous detail he studied the game, as well as the frightening ability. Which is why Clegg is adamant Ronaldo is capable of beating Ryan Giggs in terms of longevity. 'If he's set in his mind, "I want to beat him", he'll go for it,' he said. 'The influences you have in your life will set so many standards for you. 'Ronaldo could play until he's 40. It all depends on how many people are gunning for him and if he gets injured it would cut it down. 'But work with Cristiano, as well as Ruud van Nistelrooy and Paul Scholes, was all about the brain. It's not about the brawn.
'You see the skills and the power but it's the brain. A multitude of things are happening, it's the players that can see everything then react to it that did the best. 'He told me what he was going to do – become the best player in the world – then he did what was necessary when lots don't. 'I'd heard it hundreds of times before but it's all in the head, its fantasy. 'But he had a plan. He wanted more information and knew what he had to do. You can't just be it in your head, you've got to live it. 'It's like packing your bag to go on a journey and he packed his bag with everything possible.'
Ronaldo has gone on to win three Ballon d'Or awards – but Clegg revealed a conversation in 2006 that highlights the superstar's single-minded determination. 'He said, "I'm going to win Player of the Year," and I said it would take him an extra year,' he recalled. 'Cristiano was like, "No, I'll win it this year," and he did. Then I thought, this guy knows what he's talking about.' Ronaldo may be the best on the planet on a football field but his rise was largely developed in the confines of United's Carrington training base.
While others travelled to training, he was already in perfecting the art of injury prevention. When they were heading home, he was in the gym. Then there were the tricks out on the field. Some fans criticised him in his early days at Old Trafford, but Clegg knew it was all part of a plan. 'He'd come in almost every day, before and after,' he added. 'The morning would be half an hour of injury prevention. It was about balancing, twisting and turning and I'd learn how he moved. I don't need to see his face to know Cristiano is running. 'He'd do short sprints and twists and turns and would always have a ball with him – he'd even do weights with the bloody ball! 'Then in the afternoon he'd come in – bear in mind he'd already done 40 minutes extra on his skills – for between 40 minutes and an hour.
'He'd also try things out in training games and in first team matches. I remember seeing him try to go through a couple of players and the crowd was on him – they didn't realise he was practising his art. 'And the difference between him and other players was that if it went wrong, they wouldn't do it again – Cristiano would again and again. 'Some players just go out and play, he didn't. He'd say, 'Today I'm going to work on this,' that's why others got frustrated as they'd be like, 'My team's losing!' But it was all part of his development. 'It's all right doing it on your own or in a training game but in a game there's massive pressure as there's 70,000 at Old Trafford and millions watching on TV. 'If it was just trying things, you couldn't go along with it. But when you see that his whole life is housed around doing the right things you've got to give him time – which is what Sir Alex Ferguson did.'
It is difficult to think there have ever been doubts about Ronaldo. However, there were times when others needed reassurance. 'Cristiano never really had doubts but he knew sometimes he was going through a bad phase and things weren't quite working out,' Clegg added. 'And there were doubts among the staff, some of them were saying, 'We're not so sure he should be doing this or that.' It is difficult to look past Ronaldo's physique, he is a footballing machine.
But it was not gained by lifting huge weights. Instead it was that competitive edge, employing his own cook when he was just 19-years-old and input from United's then dietitian, Trevor Lee. 'There were some good athletes at United at that time and some were 25 or 28-years-old,' recalled Clegg. 'But he saw what others did and it registered what he needs to do. 'He always had an amazing back as he is from Madeira and did a lot of swimming, so he was easy to work with. As long as you didn't go crazy, you couldn't really overtrain him. 'If you did and he couldn't function properly the next day, he wasn't happy.
'He hated going too heavy with the weights as he couldn't function right the next day – he'd do just above bodyweight squats, so when he left he was doing about 80kgs and not too many reps either. 'It's like overwatering a plant. If you do too much it can have a disastrous effect but if you do a little bit, then another and another, that's what builds the structure. 'Cristiano came to the right place in the Premier League and he wanted to be the best in the world and that's where the sharpness of your sword and the strength of your shield are tested.' Much talk surrounds the future of Ronaldo. Will he come back to Old Trafford? Clegg is not convinced but he does believe that he would make a good manager one day. He said: 'Personally I don't think he'll be back. He had a plan to come to United and wasn't going to stay forever. He wants Real Madrid to become the greatest team ever.
'But he could become a manager. He's a natural leader and pulls people along who will follow.'