Soccer - FA Barclaycard Premiership - Leeds United v Manchester United Ricardo Lopez, Manchester United, Elland Road, Leeds, 14 September 2002

The story of Ricardo’s three years at Man Utd & how it shaped his career

Ricardo made only five appearances during three years at Manchester United and while his spell at the club might be forgettable for many, it has helped shape the former goalkeeper’s life.

The Spain international signed for United in the summer of 2002, after being part of his national team’s squad at the World Cup in South Korea and Japan, in the hope he could provide competition to Fabian Barthez and Roy Carroll.

Twice capped for Spain, Ricardo had been heavily scouted by Sir Alex Ferguson and was given his first chance in United’s Champions League opener against Maccabi Haifa when he was brought on in place of Barthez for the last 23 minutes.

He went on to start three games in the competition that season but only ever played once for the Red Devils in the Premier League, as a half-time substitute against Blackburn Rovers when his very first contribution was to give away and then save a penalty.

“I remember Barthez got injured so I had to come on for the second half,” Ricardo says. “There was a long ball and Rio Ferdinand headed it, but the striker got in front of me and I fouled him.

“David Dunn took the penalty to my left and it was a good save and my most incredible moment in Manchester.”

Though that was to be Ricardo’s first and last Premier League appearance, he enjoyed his three-year spell in Manchester and certainly holds no grudges over his lack of opportunities.

“It was a little bit of a surprise for everyone (when I moved to Old Trafford) but very important for the club and for me because Real Valladolid got money for me and it was a very good opportunity for me to play in Manchester.

“He (Ferguson) didn’t tell me much directly, but he was very nice with me, he told me about Spanish football and how he watched me closely in my first training at United. I could see in his face, he was very happy with me.

“Obviously, he signed me because I got my caps with Spain. I would have liked to have had more opportunities, but this is football. At that time Fabian Barthez and Roy Carroll were in front of me and it was very difficult to get the No.1 spot.

“Maybe Sir Alex Ferguson tried me in the Champions League games to see what I could do. I would have liked to have played more in the cup or the league games, but that did not happen. I don’t know why, I will never know.”

Learning from the best

Ricardo spent his second year on United’s books out on loan at Racing Santander before returning to Old Trafford for the 2004-05 season in which the grand sum of his first-team involvement was six games sat on the bench.

However, he picked up skills during his three years in England which would go on to help him in both his playing and coaching career.

“I had to do some new things because in English football in training, the other players never stop,” he says.

“You need to be very strong in the aerial duels as well. I learned a lot about that, as for the ‘keeper it is very important to be strong and command the area.

“Every day you’re learning as there are very good players there: Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Roy Keane, Rio Ferdinand, Wes Brown, Laurent Blanc, Diego Forlan, Cristiano Ronaldo – all great players.

“After training sessions, David would ask me to get in goal so he could practice free-kicks. It was a very good challenge…he would always win.

“When you play with the best players in the world for sure you’re learning something. You get a stronger mentality, you had to know every day was a challenge in training, you had to give 100 per cent in the training.

“It was unbelievable with those people, they always wanted to win, they want to win every game even in training, no rest and this was great because after when I got to another team, I would remember how important it was to give 100 per cent every single day.”

United ‘family’

Ricardo was eventually joined by several other Spanish speakers at United, which helped him feel part of the team when not playing, but he had been welcomed by his team-mates from day one, with Phil Neville particularly accommodating.

“I’ll always remember Phil Neville,” Ricardo says. “He took care of me, he invited me around for dinner at his house, he always cared about me and my family.

“But everybody there [was friendly], it was great! I remember Roy Keane as captain, he always took care of the players.

“Manchester United was like a small family, everything was very good, you only had to care about football.

“After Cristiano Ronaldo came in, he was happy and a good guy. We had a great time together, with Diego Forlan and Quinton Fortune, it was a little Spanish community in Manchester.

“Quinton played with me in Atletico and spoke Spanish with Diego, Cristiano and then Gabriel (Heinze), so there was a lot Spanish spoken in the dressing room.”

It was learning English, though, that would benefit Ricardo most in the long run, allowing him to work in Belgium and Japan as a coach, something he will forever be grateful for.

“Learning English was great, it’s the best language to learn,” he says. “I think it is the best thing from playing there.

“It means a lot to me to travel around the world, to Japan, Brugge, and it’s very important to speak English, which I learned in Manchester – so I speak Mancunian.”

Life after United

Ricardo played for a further eight years after leaving Manchester before moving into coaching, playing a crucial part in the most successful period of Osasuna’s history in which they finished fourth in La Liga and made a UEFA Cup semi-final.

“I started to feel like a very good player in Osasuna,” Ricardo says. “In the first year we got into the Champions League and lost to Hamburg in the qualifier, but we went into the UEFA Cup and got to the semi-finals, so the first two years were amazing there.

“The people were very happy with me and I played there until the end of my career, I was in Pamplona for eight years. I am very proud of my time with Osasuna, and I hope one day to go back as coach.”

Now manager of Racing Ferrol in Segunda B, Ricardo has learned a lot from great managers such as Sir Alex Ferguson and Radi Antic.

“There are small tricks that a coach uses in different situations, and now as a coach I try to take the best things from every coach I had.

“Alex Ferguson, he was a very good man for learning from, he was one of the best.”

Ricardo may have only played five times for Manchester United, but the impact the club had on his career could hardly have been greater.

By Will Unwin

This article was originally published in February 2018.

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