FORMER Manchester United assistant Mike Phelan has opened up about the struggles during his second stint at the club.
The 60-year-old was Sir Alex Ferguson's right-hand man during the final five years of the legendary manager's tenure at Old Trafford.
He then spent six years elsewhere at the likes of Norwich, Hull and Central Coast Mariners.
In 2019, following the sacking of Jose Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took the helm – initially as interim boss.
And the ex-Man Utd striker asked Phelan to return to the club as part of his backroom staff.
But while Phelan praised Solskjaer for his "refreshing" approach and hard work, he also now acknowledges there were complications.
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Speaking to Sky Sports, he said: "There were issues going on in that time that weren't going on the first time round. There was a lot more attention to things in the background, within the club and the atmosphere.
"You were dealing with these things a lot more than the bits you wanted to focus on which was the football. But when you're the manager of a massive club, the results get you."
One of those major issues surrounded Cristiano Ronaldo – who returned in 2021 for a second spell with Man Utd.
He scored 24 goals in 38 games during his first season in what was ultimately a disappointing campaign for the club as Solskjaer was sacked.
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Erik ten Hag eventually axed Ronaldo from the squad, before he secured a move to Saudi Arabia.
And Phelan has now revealed what Ronaldo was like compared to his first stint at the club.
He added: "The second time round, he came in a lot older and a lot more opinionated, strong-willed.
"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."
Phelan also spoke about his time working under interim head coach Ralf Rangnick.
The German, 65, took charge three months into the 2021-22 campaign and endured a dismal spell at the helm.
But the short-term appointment was a concern from the start.
Phelan said: "I thought it was difficult. Not difficult from the point of Ralf being the manager, but the circumstances of him being the manager. It wasn't easy with it because Manchester United – does it need a caretaker manager?
"It needs a proper manager – and I'm not saying Ralf wasn't a proper manager, but he came in under this caretaker role having been one at a smaller club.
"I always thought it would be difficult for him to establish momentum, to sort out the players in a short space of time."
Ten Hag's arrival solved the managerial uncertainty at the club, but several issues remained.
One of those is still plaguing the club in the shape of Harry Maguire's role in the squad.
The England international, 30, was stripped of the captaincy in the summer and looked set for a move to West Ham, before it collapsed late on in the window.
He has had very few starts under Ten Hag over the past 12 months and appears to still be on the periphery.
But Phelan, who coached Maguire at Hull, believes the centre-back can overcome the flaws in his game.
However, he also admits there are negatives to the way the defender plays.
He said: "We always knew he had strengths and weaknesses, most players do. Then the United thing came along and at that time, Harry was a top player. Nobody could say he wasn't a top player in that position having played at Leicester.
"Yes, the fee was a lot. But you're not in control of that."
He went on to add: "He's a good footballer. Yes there are weaknesses in his game. But they were there in his days at Hull.
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"Some say you should improve your weaknesses, but I'm a believer in keeping on playing to strengths. His ability on the ball, he can read the game, he can definitely score a goal, and he's a good guy. He's one of the good guys in football."
Phelan left Man Utd last year and has not taken up a new role since departing Old Trafford.
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