Portugal star says attitude problem must be tackled if Rangnick’s Reds are to salvage season
United are six points adrift of fourth place with two games in hand and face Aston Villa tomorrow in desperate need of a win after six defeats in their last 14 Premier League games.
Ralf Rangnick’s battles to save United’s season in the wake of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s sacking in November have not been helped by unrest in the camp, as the interim manager’s struggles to get the players to buy into his methods.
But Ronaldo insists tactics and systems are less of an issue than the mentality and that the squad need to look carefully at themselves and pull together if the club is to drag itself out of a hole.
“Since (Rangnick) arrived, I think in some ways we are better, but he needs time, it’s not that easy to change the mentality of players, the way they play, the system and the culture like that,” said Ronaldo, who hopes to be fit to face Villa after missing Monday’s FA Cup tie against Steve Gerrard’s side with a muscle problem. “So I believe he’s going to do a good job.
“It’s impossible without right mentality. I think that’s the main point. I always speak with my friends and we have a chat about football, and they all speak about the system.
“The system is useful, but not if the mentality is not there in the pitch.
“This is why I say we have a long way to improve because, for me, the most important thing is for you to look at yourself and say: ‘I can do better. I can help the team much more.’
“It starts with me. New year, I try to improve different things and better things, to help the team. We are all here to make the team better, so let’s try.”
Ronaldo added: “We have to have the right mentality. I look to myself and I say: ‘Cristiano, what can you do better to improve your level to help the team?’ Yes, I can improve other things, maybe to sprint for 90 minutes, if something happens to help your team-mate if they are suffering or are tired. The small details during the game - to be smart, to be intelligent.
“All the games are different, all the players are different, the systems, the stadiums, so you have to be capable and ready when you suffer, when you struggle in a game, to be compact, to want for your team-mates and be a team. For me, this is why they call this team Manchester ‘United’. So we have to be united in the difficult moments.”
As well as telling United’s players to sort out their body language – something for which Ronaldo has also come in for criticism – Rangnick has urged them to play with greater intensity, physicality and energy and to start sprinting more.
But Ronaldo believes some of the younger players struggle to accept criticism and will continue to struggle unless they act on advice and address their shortcomings.
“The mature players, the older players, they can always help the young players,” Ronaldo told Premier League Productions. “But I can give an example. If I give you advice, even if you are younger than me, if you don’t implant that during your daily life, it will be difficult.
“I can speak all day with that person, but if it’s not coming from inside of you, it’s impossible. I remember when I was 18, 19, 20, some older players spoke with me, but I put that as, ‘Cristiano, you have to improve – they know more than you, they are more experienced than you, they passed through many bad moments’.
“But other people, 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, so you have to find the right balance to speak with them.
“But, in my opinion, the main point is that it should come from inside of you. You should be proud of yourself and look in the mirror and say, ‘Listen, I give everything’. I think all of us should do that, because it’s a new year, we change the page, we have many things to win and we have to believe in that. If not, it will be a nightmare.
“The individual is the most important thing. We are here to help and if they need my help, and my support and my advice, I will be the No 1 to help. But if you don’t want my help, do your job, look for yourself, and do your best to help the team.”
United face Middlesbrough in the FA Cup fourth round and Atletico Madrid in the Champions League Round of 16 next month and Ronaldo believes all is not lost if the team address their attitude and insists he will not settle for anything less than the best.
“We have huge potential to win stuff, to win important things, but we have to find the best way to achieve that result,” he said.
“But we have a few things that we have to change, and we have to accept when you are not in your best shape or moment. We have a long way to improve but we have to think things are going to change, to be in a better place.
“Let’s be honest. The last five or six games, do you think Manchester United played very well? No. You know that, everyone knows that. We have – how can I say? – time to improve.
“We have a squad with potential, a new manager, why don’t we believe we can do better? You have to believe, you have to be positive to try to change things and to play how Manchester United fans want and the history of the club. This is why we’re not going to give up. The only guys that give up are those who are mentally weak.
“Manchester United belongs to important things. I don’t want to be here at the club, to fight for sixth or seventh place, or fifth, I’m here to try to win, to compete.
“To win the league, it’s a marathon, not a 100-metre sprint. You have to be consistent, this is why the best teams, right now, in England, are Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea. They are more consistent than the other reams, but we have to look at that and believe we are capable of doing that in the same way. We know it’s tough, we have to improve, some things have to change, but I believe that we have the potential here.
“To build up a good thing sometimes you have to destroy a few things. So why not? New year, new life. I hope Manchester can be at the level people want – especially the fans, they deserve that.”
Asked what would constitute success this season, Ronaldo said: “To win one title, to go through in the Champions League and be at least – right now the way we are – to be in the top four.”
Despite his exasperations at United’s form and problems, Ronaldo says he and his family are settled in Manchester. “I’m in a moment of my life that I’m settled,” he said. “For me, it’s another step in my career. It’s good. Family is happy, kids are happy, I’m happy, and I want to carry on like that.”
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