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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
Likening your guidance, as an employer, to the counsel of a father is a tactic that very few football managers could get away with, but what might sound melodramatic and over-familiar in some cases is perfectly suitable for Sir Alex Ferguson's relationship with Cristiano Ronaldo.

"If you are asking for advice and it was your son, you would give him the best advice possible," he said yesterday. "I believe that the worst thing Ronaldo could do is to go to Real Madrid."

Ferguson has, ever since the skinny young starlet first arrived at Old Trafford, acted like a surrogate father. Who can forget that picture in 2003 of Ronaldo crossing a road in Manchester, hand-in-hand with his mother? This was perhaps not a boy ready for life in the big city.

Ronaldo's innate gifts are light years away from the modest talents that the young Ferguson was granted, but now he has been taught how to use them and, most importantly, how to graft in order to keep them. As a player, Ferguson was no superstar, but his fearsome competitive streak earned him a place some distance above his natural level in Glasgow Rangers' first team. Ronaldo, who has practically doubled in mass over the past five years and fights for every ball, has clearly been moulded in Ferguson's image.

The ferocious Scotsman has defended him like a son as well. The opponents who have savaged the boy on the pitch with studs, and then off it with accusations and slurs, have been derided as unprofessional and thuggish. The managers who have pointed to his willingness to hit the deck have been mocked. After the World Cup, when the British media sought to whip up a frenzy of hatred against him for his role in Wayne Rooney's sending off, he stepped into the breach again, guarding Ronaldo's honour and biting back whenever it was questioned.

Most tellingly of all, he defended him against his own team-mate when Ruud van Nistelrooy reportedly mocked the recent death of Ronaldo's real father in a training ground scuffle. Forced to choose between supporting one of the greatest goal-scorers in Manchester United's history and his young, yet-to-achieve-anything, winger, he banished the Dutchman to the bench and then sent him packing to The Bernabeu. Ironically, it is Ronaldo's desire to follow his old nemesis to Madrid that now threatens this close bond.

The events of this summer must have caused Ferguson to wonder why he bothered and to consider a few outdated methods of paternal discipline in an effort to bash some sense into the feckless child. However, it is unlikely that the PFA would support an official club punishment of ten whacks across the bare bottom with a slipper and a two week grounding. Instead he has attempted the impossible and appealed to the boy's better nature.

Make no mistake, a move to Real Madrid would not suit Ronaldo at this time in his career. The Spanish side are notoriously erratic, given to moments of madness like sacking coaches who win La Liga or the European Cup. They boast fanatical support across the world, but so do Manchester United. He would do better to stay, to put this fit of pique down to his own immaturity and to make himself a genuine legend.
Footballers should seek to test themselves in new environments when they grow stale, but if this is Ronaldo's motivation then he should know that it's too soon. If the shallow pursuit of money is his motivation, then Ferguson should pursue that slipper strategy.

Young men will always seek to disobey their fathers and prove themselves in their own right, making a stand for their own independence and making a name for themselves in their own right. Sometimes though, just sometimes, silly little boys would be better off listening to their fathers.