Manchester United endured their worst Premier League campaign for decades last season and it was clear the dressing room was broken, while it was understood certain players in the dressing room were unsure about Harry Maguire’s role as captain.
Maguire remained a regular starter throughout the season and some could not believe he had not been benched. There were also dressing room accusations about Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored 24 goals last term, which made him the club’s top goalscorer by some distance, with it being claimed that Ronaldo was a disruptive influence and that he was having a negative effect.
However, it seemed like Ronaldo might have been holding the dressing room together. He was talismanic on the pitch and his leadership was needed to prevent the standards, which were already low, from slipping further toward the abyss.
Sources said Ronaldo implored the dressing room to show Ole Gunnar Solskjaer support when the writing was on the wall for the Norwegian, while it’s understood he remained a key leader during Ralf Rangnick’s reign, thwarting seeds of division.
That is not to say Ronaldo is perfect – he is flawed. There were incidents of Ronaldo walking straight down the tunnel after defeats and his reaction to being substituted in the win at Brentford in January was far from commendable behaviour, although some excused that reaction by sympathising with a five-time Ballon d’Or winner being reduced to public failure. It was not a good look regardless.
Although Rangnick admitted he did not blame Ronaldo for his reaction after that game, he suggested that he had been ‘too emotional’, but perhaps the dressing room would be a better place if all of the players cared to the extent that Ronaldo does.
Ronaldo was certainly leading by example when on the pitch. He single-handedly ensured United progressed to the Champions League group stage and the club’s Premier League finishing position would have been worse than sixth without him.
He expressed it was his desire to leave the club this summer – that was not an episode which endeared him to supporters – and he only returned to Carrington in the last week of July. However, he did not give his critics what they wanted when he finally reported for pre-season, as he continued to train in an exemplary fashion.
It was said the feeling around Carrington was like nothing had happened. If that is true, it’s a credit to the way Ronaldo carried himself following his return to training, as he is the biggest personality at the club and he can influence the mood should he want to.
Ronaldo wanted to leave right up until the transfer deadline but that was not apparent in training. He remained a positive influence and it’s understood the academy players at the club marvel at the forward when given the chance to train with him.
The 37-year-old has embraced his role as someone the youngsters naturally idolise at Carrington and that does not fit the character of the person who some accuse him of being.
Ronaldo has been accused of being a toxic dressing room influence, but evidence that suggests otherwise has emerged this week. Brandon Williams and Martin Dubravka have both done separate interviews in which they have praised Ronaldo.
Williams’ interview with The Sportsman was extraordinary as it seemed the full-back was speaking with no regard for his media training – he was speaking honestly and without a filter. He was asked about Ronaldo and his answers weren’t surprising.
Williams recalled a story when he had claimed he was the best dresser in an interview, which had been brought to Ronaldo’s attention. Ronaldo joked with Williams about his claim, saying: “You’re the best dresser? But you come in tracksuits every day.”
That seems like an insignificant conversation but it’s interesting that Williams remembers it – that shows how Ronaldo is viewed in the dressing room. Williams also lauded his character: “I wasn’t there when he first came back, but since I’ve come back, he’s been a massive influence. He always talks to me,” he said. “He makes sure that he doesn’t leave anybody out. He just talks to everybody.
“He’s not ‘I’m the superstar here, I’m not going to talk to anyone.’ He gives me advice. He talks to me. He has a joke with me. It’s just normal stuff. When you have a colleague that’s a footballer because at the end of the day, he’s a colleague of mine.”
If Williams’ appraisal wasn’t enough, goalkeeper Dubravka has also lavished the praise on Ronaldo. Dubravka told Sport : “I’m really excited to be in the dressing room with such stars. When we look at those names, each one has a huge quality.
“I’ve probably had the most communication with him [Ronaldo] all day, apart from Scott McTominay and Tom Heaton, who are right next to me in the dressing room. We had the opportunity to talk to each other before training and then after training in the gym.”
It has been a topic of debate, but those interviews suggest that Ronaldo is not a disruptive influence in the dressing room. There will be some in the dressing room that could disagree, but that is expected in any working environment and in any industry.
He might not play as regularly this season, but Ronaldo’s leadership qualities ensure he remains an invaluable asset at the club.