Mike Phelan knows a thing or two about Manchester United.
From being a member of the 1992 English Premier League playing squad to becoming part of the staff under Sir Alex Ferguson, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick, there’s not many who have the experience and insight into the club than Phelan.
With that experience, comes a tale of incredible highs under the times of Sir Alex to incredible lows more recently.
Not only that, but there are experiences of working with some of the top players in the world who have played on the hallowed turf of Old Trafford.
And not many names come bigger than Cristiano Ronaldo.
Arguably the greatest player of all time, Ronaldo spent two spells at the club – with the second, more recent one, ended in unceremonious circumstances when the Portuguese legend left the club by mutual consent just before moving to Saudi.
Speaking to Sky Sports, Phelan explains why things turned sour during Ronaldo’s second spell at the club and believes it’s due to others not being able to hit his own high standards.
“The second time round, he came in a lot older and a lot more opinionated, strong-willed,” Phelan said.
“He still had massively high standards and was terrific to work with.
“But I’d probably say a tougher mindset.
“He had been at Man Utd, he had been Portugal’s ever-present, he had been at Madrid.
“I liked it because he didn’t want his standards to drop, he wanted other people’s standards to come up.
“And sometimes you lose a few people along the way when that happens.
“I remember certain times when he pushed and pushed hard, and he didn’t get much reaction or much response. And there was frustration.
“When you deal with top, top people, it’s about them and where they can finish and where they can get to.
“They want to look back and go ‘wow, that was successful’.
“And he probably realised, and I don’t know as I never had that conversation with him, that he couldn’t do it at Manchester United. So his challenges were elsewhere.
“He’s still playing international football, yes he’s in Saudi Arabia, but he’s still playing and scoring goals. He is doing all the things we knew he could do at Manchester United.
“But a really good personality, hard-working and challenging.
“He challenged me as a coach, Carlos Queiroz as a coach and Sir Alex as a manager.
“But that’s good because it takes you to another level.”
From what Phelan is implying, it seems that Ronaldo was trying to push others around him to take that step to another level – but it was ignored and that caused the Portuguese to get frustrated.
Knowing a personality like Ronaldo and the expectations that he has on himself, it’s not surprising that he wanted those around to take that step.
It seems symptomatic of the issues currently at Old Trafford that the 5 time Balon D’Or winner wasn’t getting the reaction that he wanted so decided to go elsewhere.
According to Phelan, those high standards were what defined the era under Sir Alex.
“The beauty at United was there was a high standard there,” Phelan added. “And that standard was high.
“It wasn’t just the standards that the manager put in place, or the coaching staff, but the ones that the players put in place.
“It was a case of: if you want to be here you accept this and you keep the standard high. And you take that on and you challenge it a lot more.
“As coaches, we were there to improve the players.
“Yes, they are top, top players. But you’re not looking for massive improvement, you’re looking at a bit of improvement.
“And if you get it from them all, then that’s a huge improvement.
“So when you challenge with Ronaldo and Rooney, they are pretty decent individuals in their own right. Yes, they have egos – but ultimately they want to succeed and they want the legacy.
“You have to be there for them, and that was easy for me. It’s about relaying those messages to them: keep your head down, do your work, you’re a good player – that’s why you’re there – and it will all come together.”
From what Phelan mentions, it seems that the drop in standards and expectations is what contrasts between the time of Sir Alex and now.
That’s a sad state of affairs for those involved in the club and fans will be hoping that those higher standards will return sooner rather than later under manager Erik ten Hag.