Darren Fletcher has today spoken about a crucial intervention in training that helped Cristiano Ronaldo grow in to the player

A few months after Ronaldo signed, Walter Smith joined the club as Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant and introduced a new rule in training which meant players were allowed to get with fouls in a bid toughen the winger up and stop him for taking too much time on the ball.

At the end of the season, United won the FA Cup and Ronaldo scored our first goal in 3-0 win over Millwall in the final.

Speaking to Lockdown Tactics, Fletcher reflected on what life was like in those early days with Ronaldo.

Listen, he had a tough time as well in the dressing room. There were times he was holding on to the ball too much and his decision-making wasn’t there yet. He had a tough time, he got told a few home truths. But he could deal with it, he was a big personality. The growth in the space of a few years in terms of his personal training, gym, he just became this absolute monster of a dedicated professional. And there’s no doubt that environment at Manchester United helped him as well.

Walter came in and he basically decided to not give fouls in training. I know it was definitely for Ronaldo. The boys were flying into each other and Ronnie was getting lumps kicked out of him. Before, you wouldn’t get soft fouls but you would get a foul – he’d be taking the mick, draw a foul, win it, laugh, get the ball. So Walter just decided there were no fouls now in training. Ronaldo for two weeks was going bananas, “Who’s this Scottish guy? What is this?”

Basically, the lads tackled you anyway at United, but if you knew there wasn’t going to be a foul… Honestly, it’s amazing how quickly Ronnie started moving the ball and running because he knew he wasn’t going to get a foul, so there was no point hanging on to it. And then he started to score more goals and get in more goalscoring positions. Listen, it’s a small little thing but I feel the second half of the season under Walter Smith he made a big step. Don’t get me wrong, he made massive progressions off the back of that. But it was just a small little thing for a few weeks that I remember Ronaldo absolutely raging about, quickly accepting and then all of a sudden started taking one and two touch and passing and running more without the ball, and started scoring more goals.

I think something clicked in him like, “Oh, the skills are good but now this coaching style has made me recognise that if I move the ball quicker and run, with my physical attributes, I’m going to become more effective”. Great management, again. You talk about Alex Ferguson, Walter Smith is right there beside Sir Alex Ferguson, let me tell you. An unbelievable manager and a great guy. He had a massive impact at Man United in six months, all the lads still speak highly of him. A fantastic man and coach.