Rio Ferdinand has revealed his former Manchester United team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo used to be “embarrassed” of his shooting ability and spent hours refining his synonymous style during his time with the Red Devils.
Addressing England’s Under-16 team, Ferdinand touched upon a plethora of different topics, including the Real Madrid man’s rivalry with Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero and how he dealt with Arsenal icon Thierry Henry at full flight.
But it’s his recollection of a hardworking Ronaldo which would have surely served as the biggest inspiration to the youngsters in attendance, per Adam Shergold of the MailOnline:
He didn't have a great shot when he came. He had a powerful shot but it went everywhere. He used to go out after training, he was embarrassed. He used to have a bag of balls and went to a pitch right over the other side so he could hide behind the trees.
It was ‘Ronnie, where you going man?’ ‘I'm just going over there.’ ‘What's wrong with you?’ But after a few months it was 'oh he does shooting, does stepovers.' He used to put weights on his feet and do these stepovers. [We said] ‘Are you mad, what are you doing?’ Until he started bamboozling people.
Ronaldo grew into the finest player in world football during his time with the Red Devils, a progression which prompted Real Madrid to splash £80 million to bring him to the club in 2009. Since then, the Portuguese has won the Champions League, La Liga and has become Real’s all-time top scorer, although some feel as though he’s only the second best player on the planet.
That’s because of the similarly remarkable consistency of Messi, who has dazzled for Barcelona. When asked for his assessment on this longstanding debate, Ferdinand offered an intriguing point of view, having come up against both of these superstars during his playing days, per Shergold: “Ronaldo is like a driven, well-oiled machine who has made himself a superstar. Messi is more of a natural, it's been given to him. Someone has looked down and said ‘you're the man.’”
The former England captain also claimed “if you were going to build a footballer, you'd build Ronaldo” but conceded that the Barcelona man is “an artist, a genius.”
Both players, as is customary these days, have been included in the final three-man shortlist for the 2015 Ballon d’Or award alongside Barcelona forward Neymar. BBC 5 live Sport took a look at how the three have compared to this point in the calendar year:
As noted above, it’s harsh on Luis Suarez to not be included in the shortlist after a stellar season for the Blaugrana. Ferdinand is a player who came up against the Uruguayan during his time as a Liverpool player, but the Englishman also revealed that he’s not as difficult to deal with as City’s star striker, Aguero:
He's a nightmare. He’s small, stocky, strong, quick as hell and will go both ways. He will go left and shoot with his left, or go right and shoot with his right. With players like [Luis] Suarez, push him on his left all day long because he'll cut back on his right.
Someone like Aguero, he'll take that left and it's so hard to get a yard against someone so quick, especially in the box and he bangs it in with both feet. For me, he was the hardest to play against for a long time.
One player who would have also been tough to cope with is Henry, who had plenty of games up against Ferdinand when both men were at their absolute peak. The Englishman certainly coped with the Arsenal star better than most, although not entirely, and he revealed some mental preparation was central to shutting him down.
“All you'd do is visualise that player,” Ferdinand admitted. “The moment before I put my head on the pillow, I'm visualising his best moves and kept playing that over in my mind. Then in the morning, I'd do it again but then I'd do me combating what he's doing. Me taking the ball off him, me winning the first header. I'd do stuff like that all the time.”
Ferdinand has impressed plenty with his sharp analysis during his punditry stint with BT Sport, and as was evident by his cerebral style of defending, he’s a figure who has an impressive grasp on the fundamentals of the game. Those youngsters in attendance would have been wise to soak up whatever they could from this rare opportunity—especially the comments on Ronaldo, who is a self-made superstar.
As Ferdinand notes, not everyone is blessed with natural ability, as is the case with Messi. But the Portuguese, while talented, is an example of just how far a player can go if they aren't contented with their lot—which would have been easy having signed for United—and they apply themselves appropriately.