Neville warns of 'bully' Ronaldo
Gary Neville has branded Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo a "bully" who preys on the weaknesses of defenders.
Former Manchester United captain Neville will be in Madrid on Wednesday for Ronaldo's reunion with United.
The mouthwatering Champions League showdown with Real offers Neville a chance to remind himself how privileged he was to have spent six years playing alongside Ronaldo before the Portugal star left for Spain in a world-record £80million deal.
Speaking in his capacity as a McDonald's ambassador to publicise the 2013 FA Community Awards, Neville has no doubt the traits that made Ronaldo so popular during his time at United are still a major component of his game now.
"Ronaldo is a bully," said Neville. "He bullies the weakest defender. He does it all the time.
"He did it to Manchester City against Maicon. He will play on the left wing. If he can't get on the ball he will play centre-forward, midfield, right wing."
Indeed, so unconventional was Ronaldo during his time at Old Trafford that he completely changed the way Neville thought about the game.
"He changed my perception," he said. "We had a midfield four - Beckham, Keane, Scholes, Giggs - I played with Beckham for seven years. They never had the freedom to decide their position on the pitch.
"Suddenly I didn't have someone in front of me who would come back and double up on the left-winger. In those early years he used to go wandering off.
"He was told to play on the right by Sir Alex Ferguson and would end up on the left. That was unheard of.
"By the end of Ronaldo's Manchester United career I was willing him not to chase back so he was free. He just decided his own position, which was based upon where the space was and who was the weak link. He made me realise you didn't always need to be in your shape.
"We had a player who was beyond a level of talent I had ever seen. He would go and win us game after game. I suppose that is more important."
Now in their fourth year, the FA Community Awards 2013, presented by McDonald's, were set up to recognise the importance of grassroots football and reward the hard work of those involved.
Neville has committed his time to helping his mentor at United, Eric Harrison, visiting grassroots clubs involved in the awards programme and overseeing the coach of the year assessment process.
He will be visiting his old club, Bury Juniors, to drum up support for nominations for grassroots football in the local community, with regional nominations now open, with the national ceremony taking place at Wembley on August 11.
But Ronaldo will be the centre-piece of Neville's week, having known since he watched the then raw teenager playing for Sporting Lisbon against United in a friendly 10 years ago he was a rare talent.
"I watched that game at home and texted my brother afterwards saying 'we have to sign him'," said Neville.
"He did certain things that night which were exceptional.
"When Ronaldo came to United he was physically underdeveloped. He had to cope with moving away from home and learning another language.
"But he had the right people around him and a manager who allowed him to flourish."
Nevertheless, Ronaldo was a frustrating presence in the United squad - until his return from the 2006 World Cup that is.
"He was a completely different person," said Neville.
"He had gone from a featherweight, making the wrong decisions in the last third of the pitch, to a light-heavyweight.
"I cannot think of any player who graced Old Trafford like he did for two seasons.
"He won us matches week in, week out. It was a phenomenal level of performance, scoring an unbelievable amount of goals.
"Now, he is a monster. I saw him on Saturday evening. He picks the ball up in an innocuous position, 30 yards out, does some type of shimmy I can't even describe let alone do, beats a man and whacks it in from 25 yards.
"You can't defend against that.
"Then he scores a counter-attack goal when he chases 80 yards forward, then he preys on the back of the centre-half and scores a hat-trick inside 30 minutes."
Neville feels Ronaldo is so good, comparisons with Barcelona rival Lionel Messi are pointless.
"The Real Madrid crowd are unforgiving," he said.
"They spent £80million on him but look at the contribution he has made. He is scoring more than a goal a game.
"He is in the same bracket as Messi and you can put them both up there with Pele and Maradona. I don't get emotional about these things but I feel privileged to have played with him."