‘If he doesn’t get to 30 goals, I’ll be surprised’: Rio Ferdinand challenges Cristiano Ronaldo to reach goal landmark at Manchester United this season… and urges Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford to be ‘weirdos’ in learning from him
- Rio Ferdinand spoke to Sportsmail about Cristiano Ronaldo’s Man United return
- The pair won the 2008 Champions League alongside other trophies at United
- Ferdinand says Ronaldo won’t hinder Mason Greenwood or Marcus Rashford
- Ferdinand claims United are not on the same level as the other English giants
There’s a hint of jealousy in Rio Ferdinand’s eyes while discussing the topic of Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford learning from Cristiano Ronaldo this season.
‘I had Neil Ruddock,’ he tells Sportsmail while discussing his own early influences in his career. ‘They get Cristiano Ronaldo and I get Neil Ruddock! Unbelievable. Neil’s a great guy but they’re different professionals, if you know what I mean!’
If Rashford and Greenwood do pick up some extra tips from Ronaldo during his second stint at Old Trafford, they may have Ferdinand to thank for that. Upon hearing that the Portuguese icon could be joining rivals Manchester City, the former United defender put in a call to his former team-mate.
Rio Ferdinand (left) spoke to Sportsmail about Cristiano Ronaldo’s (right) Man United return
Ronaldo, 36, is in line to make his second United debut against Newcastle this Saturday
Ferdinand refuses to reveal the exact details of that conversation, but the fact Ronaldo is back in red shows the chat may have just done the trick.
‘We spoke,’ he says while smiling. ‘And I’m just pleased he’s where he’s at. The idea that he was going to put on a Manchester City shirt was the stuff of bad dreams.’
Some analysts claim that United didn’t even need Ronaldo before his return to Old Trafford was confirmed on transfer deadline day. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side had just splashed out £73million on Jadon Sancho, Mason Greenwood had three goals in three games before Ronaldo showed up, with Rashford returning from injury soon.
Concerns over Greenwood and Rashford’s development – and the pathway of two of England’s hottest young players – are the loudest claims of concern. Ferdinand, meanwhile, swipes those suggestions to one side.
Ferdinand has urged Mason Greenwood (right) and Marcus Rashford (left) to learn from CR7
‘If I’m Rashford and Greenwood, I’m the happiest kids on the planet right now,’ the former England defender claims. ‘They have the opportunity to work with someone like Cristiano that you never thought would have been possible, someone ambitious and ridiculous.
‘I think they have to be like sponges, they have to be students. They have to watch him. I’d become obsessed with him if I was a kid there.
‘It doesn’t matter what position you’re playing in but if you’re a striker, then you’re obsessed. I’d be watching him thinking “I’m a weirdo” because you want to just know and see what he does to be the best and stay at the top there for so many years.’
Ferdinand knows what it’s like to be that ‘weirdo’. Ronaldo was the golden boy in one of United’s greatest eras, with Ferdinand the lynchpin in defence alongside Nemanja Vidic.
Ferdinand (right) and Ronaldo (second left) won the 2008 Champions League title with United
Everything came to a head, in a positive way, in the spring of 2008, when the Red Devils capped off a title-winning season by beating Chelsea in the Champions League final on penalties in Moscow.
That late evening in Russia was the Cristiano Ronaldo show – the Portuguese winger scored his 42nd goal of the season to break the deadlock, missed a penalty in the shootout, but still ended up lifting the trophy.
Remembering Ronaldo’s impact that season, Ferdinand says: ‘I felt that as a defender, as long as we kept a clean sheet, we would always have a chance because at some point in the game, he would get an opportunity and he scores. We always felt like that, we just had pure confidence.
‘They’ve got the opportunity to do that this season, with Ronaldo, with Greenwood, with Rashford, with (Edinson) Cavani, with Sancho, with (Bruno) Fernandes, with (Paul) Pogba. I’m reeling off a ridiculous amount of names. But behind that, the other players have to do their job.’
The ex-United defender says the club’s existing stars can have more confidence with Ronaldo
The challenge to United’s defenders to complement the swarm of top-class attackers ahead of them is helped by the squad depth, something that Ferdinand is no longer worried about.
Solskjaer has two reliable defenders in each position along the backline to call upon, especially following the arrival of Raphael Varane from Real Madrid for £42m.
‘There’s good players all over the pitch, players can come in during certain games and do jobs,’ the former United centre-back claims. ‘That’s what you want, especially in the back four.
Ferdinand has urged the United backline to do their jobs while the all star-attack runs riot
‘(Victor) Lindelof can come in for a game here or there, I’d be more than ok with that. (Diogo) Dalot’s staying at right-back, he had a good season with AC Milan. (Alex) Telles can come in for (Luke) Shaw, you’ve got back-ups everywhere.
‘We’ve definitely got the personnel to challenge on all fronts and they’ve got the squad depth now. They’ve added one world class player (in Ronaldo) and another potentially world class player (in Sancho). They certainly have a better opportunity to challenge for the Champions League than they have done in recent years.’
Once the man who Sportsmail revealed was in the running for United’s director of football role, would Ferdinand have done United’s transfer business any differently?
‘I would have probably tried to get a specialist defensive midfielder in, that’s probably the only area. Fred has done ok there and I think (Scott) McTominay could gel into that, big time, if that’s what they see in him.
‘But I just feel if we had a specialist in there, who knows the role perfectly, that would give our back four a little bit more protection. But then if Varane is in there, do we need more protection?’
United kick off their Champions League bid next week, with five-time winner of the competition Ronaldo set to aid their bid for Europe’s premier club competition.
Despite the addition of world-class talent at United, Ferdinand is surprisingly cool on his former side’s chances of pipping Europe’s and England’s elite to the biggest prize in the club game.
Ferdinand has urged Ronaldo to score 30 goals this season for Solskjaer’s (right) side
‘I think Manchester City and Chelsea have squads that have won things, they have more belief,’ he says. ‘Liverpool have also won things in recent years so these squads in terms of experience as a group are way ahead of us.
‘In terms of experience and know-how, right now United are starting at the bottom of the pack in terms of the favourites. I’d put them behind Liverpool, Chelsea and Man City.
RONALDO SEASON BY SEASON GOAL TALLIES SINCE 2009
2009/10 (Real Madrid): 33
2010/11 (Real Madrid): 53
2011/12 (Real Madrid): 60
2012/13 (Real Madrid): 55
2013/14 (Real Madrid): 51
2014/15 (Real Madrid): 61
2015/16 (Real Madrid): 51
2016/17 (Real Madrid): 42
2017/18 (Real Madrid): 44
2018/19 (Juventus): 28
2019/20 (Juventus): 37
2020/21 (Juventus): 36
‘You then look at Paris Saint-Germain, they’ve had an unbelievable window, one of the best I’ve ever seen.
‘They’ve got the Euros champion in (Gianluigi) Donnarumma at the back, (Georginio) Wijnaldum – I don’t know why Liverpool let him go – and then one of the greatest players to play the game in Lionel Messi. You can’t get many better windows than that.
‘Bayern Munich will also be there or thereabouts as well again. That team has had the same old faces for a number of years.
‘But because of the weakness of the Spanish teams now, I think it’ll be Bayern, PSG and two English teams in the semis.’
Irrespective of the experience that other teams possess, the rest of Europe don’t have Ronaldo. Even at 36 years old, Ferdinand is adamant that the Portuguese superstar can replicate the form of his first Old Trafford stint.
Ferdinand insists: ‘People keep saying, he’s not this, he’s not that – but he was top goalscorer in Serie A last season. Everyone saying he’s dropped in quality but he’s still better than everyone else.
‘I expect him to be nearer 25 to 30 goals this season, at least in all competitions. If he doesn’t get to 30 I’ll be surprised.’
Ronaldo has failed to hit the 30-goal mark in all competitions just once since he left United in 2009. Ferdinand may just be right on that prediction.
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