Mick Clegg helped build Ronaldo into the star he is today, and believes his education from the masters could help him “tame the beast” that is Manchester United
But spend an hour in the company of the Power Development coach who helped build a kid from Madeira into one of the game’s greatest players, and it seems insane that United haven’t already given him the job. Mick Clegg spent 11 years as the Power Development coach at Old Trafford and saw Ronaldo morph into a global megastar.
His son, Michael, who played 28 games under Sir Alex Ferguson during his own playing career, is now employed by the club in the same role. As United step up their search for a fifth manager in nine years following Ferguson’s retirement, Clegg offers a compelling case on why Ronaldo is the perfect fit.
Clegg said: “Cristiano could play well into his 40s. I’ve got absolutely no doubt about that because he’s still in such great physical condition. But he has always had big plans for his life and I would hope that he’s looking towards a future in management. I could see him become a player-manager first, because I think that would be another step in his experience and education.
“But it’s all there inside him to be a great manager. Will he go down that route? I don’t know. It would have to be a big challenge because that’s all Ronaldo is interested in. For me, the best place to start would be where he is now, at United.”
Clegg added: “Ronaldo would have a massive influence on his players simply because of who he is and what he has done. But he also has an ability to pass on the knowledge he’s built up.
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“He’s got insight into every single aspect of football at the top level and he would have soaked all that experience up like a sponge. First at Sporting as a young man, then working under Sir Alex at United before moving on to Real Madrid and Jose Mourinho and Zinedine Zidane, and then Juventus.
“Fergie was a watcher of men. He was an observer. Nothing escaped his attention. He would even watch players coming into the training ground just to see how they walked into the building.
“Did they have a spring in their step? Did they look like they had the weight of the world on their shoulders? Ronaldo is exactly the same. He was always watching his team-mates, looking at how they trained to see if there was anything he could use himself.”
Clegg, who joined United in 2000, was immediately struck by Ronaldo’s desire to be the best when the Portuguese arrived as a raw 18-year-old from Sporting Lisbon three years later. Clegg insists his role in Ronaldo’s stellar development was minimal before the forward left to pursue his dream with Real Madrid in 2009.
But it says much about their relationship that when Ronaldo returned to Old Trafford from Juventus last summer, with his 37th birthday just a few months away, he approached Clegg’s son in the Carrington gym to ask about his father. He has also written the foreword for Clegg’s excellent new book, which details the sportsmen and women he has worked with whilst continuing to run his gym in Ashton-Under-Lyne in east Manchester.
In 2007, Ronaldo was in the Carrington gym on a running machine when he beckoned Clegg over. That weekend, a woman had complimented him on his physique when he was at the bar of a London hotel on the night he collected the PFA Player of the Year award.
The Portuguese told his coach that he flexed one of his impressive biceps and said: “Built by Cleggy.” Clegg insists: “I didn’t build Cristiano Ronaldo. He did that himself, with a tiny bit of my help. I included that story in the book because for me it showed how Cristiano, even then, was a master of psychology.
“He told me that story because he knew it would make me feel good. I took it as a little ‘thank you’ for helping him. It made me want to help him even more. There’s this myth that Ronaldo was a scrawny kid when he signed for United. I’m telling you he had an incredible physique for someone his age.
“He was already driven by the desire to be the best – and all I did was zone in on that and give him a little helping hand. It took him years to develop the body he now has. But it all came from inside his mind in terms of drive and also intelligence.”
Clegg added: “I remember once being in a hotel lift in China and Cristiano was in there talking to Nani in Portuguese. One of the English lads asked why he wasn’t speaking in English – and Ronaldo responded by telling him he could speak four languages and he was going to use them.
“He can probably speak Italian as well now. Can you imagine how valuable being able to speak several languages could be in a multicultural dressing room? United have employed some top-class managers since Sir Alex retired.
“Mourinho and [Louis] Van Gaal were proven winners, but it just hasn’t happened. United are a monster. They need someone who can tame the beast and make it work for them. Ronaldo was absorbing knowledge from Sir Alex at the age of 18. It’s all stored in his box and ready to be used.”
Mick Clegg: The Power and the Glory is published by Reach Sport.