Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United is already a genuine record breaker.
It’s smashed the social media records.
Shirt sales are at an all-time high.
All this before he’s even taken to the field.
Ronaldo is expected to make his second debut for Manchester United tonight when the Red Devils welcome Newcastle United to Old Trafford and no doubt a potentially record-breaking global audience is set to tune in.
However, for all the noise surrounding Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford and the many metrics being smashed off the park, there is one very important role Ronaldo will play off the park, according to one of Ronaldo’s former Manchester United team-mates, Phil Marsh.
“It’s a massive lift for everyone at Manchester United to have Ronaldo back,” he told Kick360.
“He’s an amazing player and even if he comes back and doesn’t hit the heights people expect him to, it’s going to be invaluable for the younger players in terms of the professionalism and to see how he goes about his business and how he trains and just to be able to pick his brain about what he’s achieved and how he’s reached those levels.
“For the likes of [Mason] Greenwood, [Jadon] Sancho and [Marcus] Rashford, he’s the best player you could think of to learn from. Those young players must be delighted to have such an icon come back.”
Marsh, a former youth player at Old Trafford made his senior debut for the club in 2006 when he started alongside United’s current manager, Ole Gunnar Solsksjaer, in a 2-1 League Cup win against Crewe Alexander.
Having spent over 10 years at the club, from his time in the academy until his promotion into the senior team, Marsh said it was always a boost for young players to play with and learn from the players they have idolised growing up, setting the platform for their own careers.
Marsh – who played alongside the likes of Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and a young Wayne Rooney – said it was always a lift sharing the field with players you looked up to.
“It’s surreal really. You’ve watched these players for so long and then when you finally get to mix in and train with them, it’s a whole new level,” he said.
“Playing and training with the first team, guys like Rooney, Ronaldo, Scholes, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, just to name a few, you’ve got be on you’re a-game, because if you’re not, you get found out straight away.
“It’s a shock to the system, your touch has to be spot on and you have to know where your next pass is. Maybe in the reserves you can get away with things, but in that first team you can’t. It’s a massive inspiration, and I was lucky enough to train with those players and play in the cup with Alan Smith and Solskjaer up front, which was an absolute honour.”
Marsh was one of the youth academy players looking to be promoted to the first-team squad when Ronaldo first signed for the club back in 2003.
“When he first signed, I was in the reserves. He’s a similar age to me but obviously he went straight into the first team,” Marsh explained.
“I was still in the Reserves as an 18 or 19-year-old, but because we were a similar age, he gravitated towards us younger lads who were his age. A lot of the first-team lads were a bit older and he maybe just felt he was more comfortable with the younger lads.
“We’d be in the gym together, playing table tennis, basketball and two-touch and he’d be very keen to join in those games and play with people his age.
“Even in those games, you could see his mentality. He was competitive and wanted to win.
“I took to him straight away and even from training you could see he had something.”
Marsh said that while Ronaldo was relatively shy off the park in those early days, he was bursting with confidence on the pitch.
“If anything he was too confident. When he went in, he had the quick feet and skills and maybe he tried to do too much,” Marsh said.
“The first-team players, the likes of Roy Keane, the senior members of the team, got a bit frustrated with him because they could see he had the ability but he was just doing too much at the start.
“Once he got that in check and started getting that end product and scoring goals, everyone understood the talent that was at the club.”
Marsh said that former United first-team coach Rene Meleunsteen, now an assistant coach with the Socceroos under Graham Arnold’s set-up, deserved a lot of credit for Ronaldo’s transformation into a goalscoring machine.
“Rene was fantastic. I worked with Rene in the reserves as well and he was amazing,” he said.
“I think Rene got the best out of Ronaldo and said to him to just concentrate on the end product and don’t worry about beating three or four players at a time. When the penny dropped for Ronaldo, he was unplayable.”
Marsh said Australia was lucky to have a coach of Meleunsteen’s calibre in the national team set-up.
“I hold him in the highest regard and I still speak to him now,” he said. “Being involved in the Australian set-up, he’s someone with massive experience at the top level and I’m sure he’ll help bring success to Australia.”