Former Manchester United assistant manager Mike Phelan has acknowledged that Cristiano Ronaldo’s “tougher mindset” created some tension within the squad during his second stint at the club.
Ronaldo made a surprising return to Manchester United in August 2021 and had an impressive first season back at Old Trafford, scoring 24 goals. However, the team faced turbulence, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer being sacked in November after a string of poor results. Ralf Rangnick was appointed as interim manager, and United finished sixth in the Premier League.
During his second season under Erik ten Hag, Ronaldo expressed frustration, criticizing the Dutch manager and the club’s hierarchy in an interview. Subsequently, his contract was terminated, allowing him to move to Saudi Arabia.
Phelan, who worked with Ronaldo during both of his spells at United, revealed that the 38-year-old had a more opinionated and strong-willed approach in his second stint. Ronaldo had high standards and pushed for excellence from his teammates, which sometimes led to disagreements within the squad.
Phelan commented, “I liked it because he didn’t want his standards to drop, he wanted other people’s standards to come up. And sometimes you lose a few people along the way when that happens.”
Despite the challenges, Phelan praised Ronaldo’s work ethic and his ability to raise the bar for everyone around him. He acknowledged that Ronaldo realized his challenges were elsewhere, leading to his move to Saudi Arabia while continuing to excel in international football.
Phelan concluded, “He’s still playing and scoring goals, doing all the things we knew he could do at Manchester United. But a really good personality, hard-working and challenging. He challenged me as a coach, Carlos Queiroz as a coach, and Sir Alex as a manager. But that’s good because it takes you to another level.”