THERE weren’t too many times I faced Cristiano Ronaldo and managed to cut him down to size.
But it happened one day in 2013, when Real Madrid sent a full strength team over for a pre-season friendly at Bournemouth.
They had just been promoted to the Championship and I took the grandkids along to see one of the greatest players of all time. It was a marvellous day for the town.
Ronaldo, being the fantastic guy he is, was great with everyone as always, and when I asked if we could get a picture with the kids, he was good as gold.
As I’m sure you know, I’m useless with any sort of technology, so someone else took the photo on my phone.
Ronaldo posed for the pic, off he went, and the grandkids were delighted . . . until we looked and somehow the fellow who took the photo had cut his bloody head off!
There we were, one of the all-time greats, happy to have his picture taken, and it didn’t even have his face on.
Real Madrid won quite comfortably, by the way, as you’d imagine.
It wasn’t the only time I saw close up what a lovely, genuine bloke he is, either.
I was on holiday in Sardinia with Sandra and Ronaldo was staying in the same hotel. He was with his whole family — there must have been 20 of them.
His mum, cousins, nieces, nephews, the lot, and he was just so lovely to everyone. He had time for anyone who asked, a smile and a word or two for them all, just a really nice guy.
When I heard he had re-signed for Manchester United, I was so pleased because I am such a fan.
It’s the most exciting transfer I can remember since who knows when. It’s hard to think of one that has got the whole league buzzing quite so much.
I was reminded I’ve managed against Ronaldo more than anyone else in England — in two spells at Portsmouth, with Southampton and at Spurs.
He got his first United goal against me in 2003, and his last but one at Old Trafford six years later — I was also on the end of a 4-0 home defeat against him when I was with Saints.
And of course I still remember THAT free-kick he put past David James when I was at Pompey.
Everyone talks of what a sensational goal it was, but that’s the thing with Cristiano. You just know he can do things like that, things other players couldn’t dream of.
People also ask me what you could do to stop him. There’s a simple answer to that — not very much.
The one thing you’d tell the players was to stop the ball getting to him in the first place, because once he had it you knew you were in big trouble.
In his early days some people called him a ‘show pony’ and it used to really annoy me because you could see right away what a great talent he was.
I don’t think we’ll see the Ronaldo of old, you’ll see him passing more, rather than speeding at defenders.
And he’s just got that knack of being in the right place at the right time.
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He will be Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s biggest ally, because he shows everyone else how to do things, how he works, how to live their lives.
Carlo Ancelotti told that when he managed him at Real Madrid, Ronnie was always first in and last out at training. Not now and then, but every single day.
Mason Greenwood, 19, Jadon Sancho, 21, and 23-year-old Marcus Rashford . . . all those young players at United will learn so much from him.
All the Academy kids, they should be watching him and soaking up every bit of knowledge they can.
I see it as similar in many ways as to when United signed Eric Cantona in 1992. Different players, obviously, but in terms of their impact on the others.
All the kids back then, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, the Nevilles, would watch everything Eric did and think ‘if it’s good enough for him, then that’s what we should be doing’.
You get that with the great players. When Paolo Di Canio was at West Ham, he’d come in on a Sunday and warm down for an hour and a half, eat the right food, live the right way.
Even at Bournemouth, when Luther Blissett came back from Italy, he turned the culture around.
They went from going for egg and chips after training to eating pasta. As a manager, players like him and Di Canio are worth their weight in gold.
Well, Ronaldo is a different league again and I’m so pleased and excited to see him back in the Premier League.
I’m such a fan and will definitely be taking the grandkids to watch him play.
You never know, I might even get another picture — and I’ll make sure his head is in it this time!
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