The exact moment that helped transform Cristiano Ronaldo from a Premier League star to the most prolific goalscorer the world has ever seen has been pinpointed in a new book about the Portuguese phenom.
The revelation has come from Messi vs. Ronaldo: A rivalry, two goats and the era that changed the world gameand details of how an agonizing red card in a top-flight game against Portsmouth in 2007 actually paved the way for a month of intense training that drove him to his crazy exploits in front of goal.
The catalyst for Ronaldo’s incredible transformation in front of goal came at Fratton Park on 15 August 2007.
A new book has detailed the unexpected impact of Cristiano Ronaldo’s red card in 2007
After enduring a frustrating start to the campaign, Manchester United were heading for a second successive disappointing draw following their stalemate with Reading at Old Trafford.
At 1-1, Ronaldo’s anger got the better of him in the latter stages as he clashed with Portsmouth’s Scotland international Richard Hughes in the 85th minute, appearing to poke his head into the midfielder’s face.
Hughes made the most of the contact and walked away from the clash with his forehead and, having seen the incident unfold in front of him, referee Steve Bennett – who had sent Ronaldo off the season before for an angry lunge at Manchester City’s Andrew Cole – did not hesitate to draw out his red card once again.
Ronaldo missed three games after appearing to headbutt Portsmouth’s Richard Hughes
Sir Alex Ferguson fumed at the decision, but there was little to be done as his No.7 received a three-match ban, keeping him out of their next three league games against Manchester City, Tottenham and Sunderland.
Not only that, but the game at home to Sunderland would go on an international break, meaning Ronaldo would not be able to pull on a United shirt for another month when they face Everton at Goodison Park in mid-September.
Rene Meulensteen worked with Ronaldo during his month away from first-team action
As the book points out, this amounted to football’s equivalent of a sabbatical, with Ronaldo not traveling with the squad for road games and having to skip both tactical and recovery sessions.
With his newfound free time, he decided to start training more and enlisted the help of Rene Meulensteen as the pair worked on the forward’s finish.
The Dutchman had identified a flaw in Ronaldo’s game, as he was more concerned with the quality of his goals, as opposed to the quantity.
Meulensteen made him study videos of former Manchester United strikers such as Eric Cantona and Ruud van Nistelrooy until it clicked with the Portugal star.
They then headed out to the practice range, where Meulensteen set up a series of shooting drills.
As the book points out: “He designed a series of shooting drills to make Ronaldo aware of his position on the pitch and show him how to score goals from different angles inside the box.
He produced a map of the plan and goals to categorize all types of goals. Focus on three distinct locations – directly in front of the goal (Zone 1), either side (Zone 2) and outside (Zone 3) and nine different areas of the goal.’
Cristiano Ronaldo is estimated to have scored 5,000 goals during his four weeks of training
By the end of the same season, Ronaldo had scored 42 goals in all competitions for United
RONALDO’S GOAL RATE CAREER
Ronaldo’s goals per game ratio increased dramatically after his red card at Fratton Park in 2007…
Sporting: 31 games, 5 goals, 1 goal every 6.2 games
Manchester United: 196 games, 50 goals, 1 goal every 3.9 games
Manchester United: 96 games, 68 goals, 1 goal every 1.4 games
Real Madrid: 438 games, 450 goals, 1 goal every 0.9 games
Juventus: 134 games, 101 goals, 1 goal every 1.3 games
Manchester United (second spell): 52 games, 27 goals, 1 goal every 1.9 games
Portugal: 191 games, 117 goals, 1 goal every 1.6 games
Ronaldo’s enthusiasm for the sessions was endless, and Meulensteen regularly came to Carrington to find the striker waiting at his office door every morning to continue his sessions.
Messi vs Ronaldo will be released on November 10
Such was the intensity of training, the coach estimated that Ronaldo scored 5,000 goals in their month together.
“His whole mindset toward quitting had changed,” Meulensteen told the authors. “It went from ‘I want to score the goal of the season’ to ‘I want to be a goal machine.’ He was on a mission.’
The results, both short and long term, were clear to see. After scoring 17 goals in the Premier League the previous season, Ronaldo went on to score 31 points in the 2007-08 campaign and 42 in all competitions.
With countless trophies and personal awards to his name, he is recognized by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics as the top goalscorer in football history, with 813 goals to date.
That, as it turns out, is in no small part thanks to the teaching of Muelensteen and the red card at Fratton Park 15 years ago.
Messi vs. Ronaldo: A rivalry, two goats and the era that changed the world game by Joshua Robinson and Jonathan Clegg. Published by Mariner Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, on November 10, 2022. Click here to pre-order.
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