When Cristiano Ronaldo rejoined Manchester United in September, the footballing world was gripped by mass hysteria.
Fans, former players, pundits, journalists and even his new team-mates were hailing the five-time Ballon d'Or winner's return to Old Trafford.
Every aspect of his playing style, training technique, lifestyle and diet has been scrutinised over the past decade, and now he is back in Manchester, a new generation of United supporters are keen to learn his secrets.
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Among them are the 30 Primary School children that descended on Old Trafford in late January for a lesson in healthy eating from the United chefs there, and while Marcus Rashford got a cursory mention, there was only really one player they were interested in learning about: Ronaldo.
“He’s the fittest one, so he has to be the healthiest,” one child said upon their arrival.
Goalkeeper Lee Grant’s comments that United players had stopped eating dessert since Ronaldo arrived did not go down well with former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, because the Norwegian felt that it suggested the squad's nutrition and diet was not good enough previously.
And while Solskjaer may have had a point, there is no doubt that Ronaldo's return has made some players rethink their menu options.
“There’s a few players that will eat what Ronaldo eats now, just to see,” head chef Darren Hamilton told GOAL. “Because he’s still playing at the age that he is, he’s eating right, he’s training right so some of the players are adapting.”
And it’s not just the players Ronaldo is having an impact on. His status as one of the greatest players to play the game means he was the main attraction for the excitable children who quizzed the club's chefs on what the Portugal international eats.
“His favourite is chicken salad, he tends to lean towards that more than anything else,” Hamilton said.
“At the training ground we have buffet style, so he can help himself to other options. If he has any special requests he will let us know so that we can make that for him.
"Us here in the stadium for the away games, we tend to make him chicken salads to reboost his carbs when he’s on his way back.”
Learning about Ronaldo's love of chicken salads was not the only reason for the children's visit, however.
The event was just one of a number of regular sessions hosted by the Manchester United Foundation as part of their work with 53 schools across Greater Manchester. They deliver educational and community outreach programmes in the hope of helping young people make positive choices in their lives by improving their employability, social wellbeing, and mental and physical health.
St Philip’s CE Primary School is one of 24 in the area that United work with, and they were given an insight into the huge operation of feeding up to six teams a day, while also catering to the personal needs and demands of the first team.
“The work we do as chefs with the Foundation is super important, because if they start learning at an early age they take it through with them right to adulthood, so it's really important to get them engaged,” Hamilton said.
Last season the Foundation worked with over 12,000 children, delivering 14,529 sessions which ranged from football drills to the healthy eating classes which the children took part in at Old Trafford. Their aim is to use the power of football to help youngsters in the local area to make positive choices in their lives.
They are regularly supported by members of the first-team squad, though Rashford’s fight for free school meals during the pandemic and his subsequent work with celebrity chef Tom Kerridge in setting up a YouTube channel to promote healthy cooking options has seen the message pushed further to the forefront.
“Marcus Rashford and his YouTube channel has been brilliant, and it’s helped push things forward,” Hamilton said. “We do a younger fans menu based on healthy eating anyway and we’ve had a great uptake.”
And sohile cheeseburgers are still the favourite pick for children visiting the stadium on a matchday, the work of the Manchester United Foundation, as well as Rashford, is making some at least consider their choices.
They might not all be plumping for a Ronaldo-inspired chicken salad, but it has certainly given them some food for thought for the future.