Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has hailed Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo as the “special footballer” of his generation.

Ronaldo, 31, won the Champions League and three Premier League titles in six hugely successful years under Ferguson at Old Trafford, and has gone on to win two more Champions Leagues at Real Madrid before Portugal emerged victorious at Euro 2016 last weekend.

Ferguson believes that Ronaldo’s athleticism, over a sustained period, makes the player stand out above others.

“He has an incredibly athletic body. His performance improvement is incredible,” Ferguson told Sport Bild. “And what is remarkable is that today’s football is so athletic, so fast.

“Usually it provides top players with only about five or six years to play at the highest level, then it’s over. Cristiano has been doing this for over 10 years. That makes him so exceptional.

“Every generation has its special footballer: Cristiano is currently.”

Looking back on their time together at United, Ferguson remembered that Ronaldo’s hunger stood out and felt that his protege went on to become the best player at the club.

“He has an incredible desire for football,” Ferguson added. “Cristiano looks forward to each workout. He always wants to be better, to win. He especially loves these big games.

“During my time at Manchester United, Cristiano was the player who was the best and most developed. Through much hard work, he constantly trained his shooting technique, with the right and left, his heading ability, his bounce.”

Ferguson was pictured hugging Ronaldo on Sunday after the player collected his Euro 2016 winner’s medal.