Owen Hargreaves has urged Manchester United’s younger players to listen to Cristiano Ronaldo and take ‘ownership’ and fears the club will miss out on a top-four place unless their performances quickly improve.
Ralf Rangnick oversaw back-to-back wins over Arsenal and Crystal Palace after taking over the reins from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer back in November, but results have been mixed in recent weeks and the Red Devils find themselves languishing down in seventh in the Premier League table.
Ronaldo has spoken to various media outlets ahead of United’s trip to Aston Villa this weekend and the veteran Portuguese threw his support behind interim boss Rangnick during a chat with Sky Sports, calling for supporters to be patient with the German.
However, in a separate interview, Ronaldo hinted he was frustrated with United’s younger squad members and football’s ‘new generation’ struggling to take on criticism and constructive feedback.
There have also been reports this week that suggest Ronaldo has been left ‘baffled’ by his team-mates’ attitude towards training and their reluctance to do extra gym work.
‘The mature, older players can always help the young players, but, I can give you an example: if I give you advice, even if you are younger than me and if you don’t implant that in a daily life it will be difficult,’ the five-time Ballon d’Or winner told Premier League Productions.
‘I remember when I was 18, 19, 20, some older players speak with me and I put that as, “Cristiano, you know you have to improve. They know more than you, they are more experienced than you.” They passed through many bad moments.
‘This new generation, they don’t accept that if you criticise them. I don’t say this in relation to our players but in general. I have kids, I know. Sometimes when you’re a little bit harder, they do the opposite, you have to find the right balance to speak with them.
‘But in my opinion, the main point is it should come from inside you. You should be proud of yourself, look in the mirror and say: “Listen, I gave everything. And I think all of us should do that. Because it’s a new year, we change the page, we have many things to win, we have to believe on that, if not it will be a nightmare.”
‘The individual is the most important thing. We are here to help when they need my help, my support, my advice, I will be the number one to help but if you don’t want my help, do your job, look for yourself and do your best to help the team.’
Hargreaves – Ronaldo’s former team-mate at United – understands why the Portugal international may be frustrated with the situation and believes he shouldn’t have to tell the younger squad members to show more hunger and commitment.
‘Cristiano doesn’t have time, he’s 36. He came here to help United get over the line, they finished second last year,’ Hargreaves told Premier League Productions.
‘He was the final piece of the puzzle really to help them mentor these young guys. Whether they’re taking on his mentorship or not, it doesn’t look like it.
‘He wants to help this group of players get over the line, they’ve stumbled into semi-finals and the Europa League final last year… really with Ronaldo and [Raphael] Varane and the leaders they have in that side, they should be in a better position than they are.
‘Ronaldo is trying to effect change. A lot of managers have been through there and come out not in a great way. Everybody blamed Ole and now Ralf’s getting it, but the players need to take some ownership for it.
‘There’s things coming out of the camp with players not being happy… with what?! You play for one of the greatest football teams in the world, the fans there are so loyal and supportive, the club have invested so much money in these players.
‘It’s a blessing to play for that football club, but you have to go out there and show it in every game. When you watch them sometimes you think, “Surely there’s more in there”, and I think that’s what Cristiano sees. He knows what it is like, he’s been there and done it and at 36 he shouldn’t have to tell the guys to do a bit more.’
Hargreaves feels Ronaldo has taken on the responsibility of being United’s ’emotional leader’, something he never signed up for when he returned from Juventus last summer.
He added: ‘When Cristiano came to United he had incredible mentors in Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand, Edwin van der Sar and the list goes on forever. They took him under their wing and said: “These are the standards, Cristiano, you’ve got all the time in the world, but this is what it takes.”
‘He was the best footballer I’ve ever seen, the most talented, but he was also the best pro. He probably looks at these young guys and they’re super talented, but you’ve got to put the work in. Cristiano shouldn’t be outworking all these young guys.
‘I was at the games against Manchester City and Liverpool and he put in two challenges towards the end of the game where they were quite naughty. That was deliberate because he was saying to the rest of the team: “Guys, you’ve got to compete, this is what it’s about. We’re getting smashed up here and nobody is really showing a reaction!”
‘The greatest player arguably to ever play the game is doing the work for some of the other players. He’s almost having to be an emotional leader and he shouldn’t be that.’
According to Hargreaves, the Red Devils will finish outside of the top four unless they buck up their ideas quickly.
‘Everybody should do their job, give him the ball. What they should do is make the pitch a lot smaller because Ralf spoke about having control in games. They haven’t had control in any of the games I’ve seen,’ the ex-United and England midfielder went on.
‘Play in one half like they did against Palace, make the distances a lot smaller so they can press, get crosses in for Cristiano and they’ll be okay.
‘But the way they’re playing now I don’t see them getting in the top four.’