Cristiano Ronaldo is undoubtedly one of the greatest players in Real Madrid’s history. He’s the club’s all-time top goalscorer and won no fewer than four Champions Leagues during his nine years in the Spanish capital. But he might have turned out for their eternal rivals Barcelona.
In one of the biggest sliding doors moments in football history, it’s since been revealed that Barcelona could have signed Ronaldo for a cut-price £14million back in 2003.
“We were in a process of reconstruction. Cristiano was at Sporting CP and he was close to signing for United,” club president Joan Laporta recalled in 2016.
“The player’s agent said ‘I’ve got another really good player who’s called Cristiano Ronaldo'”
In the end, Ronaldo turned up at Old Trafford and the rest is history. Barcelona signed two other of that agent’s clients that summer, but things might have changed forever had they signed Ronaldo instead.
We’ve taken a look back at the three other players Barcelona signed instead in 2003.
The summer of 2003 was a transformative one for Barcelona.
They’d just been through a fourth successive trophyless campaign and Laporta had been elected president on the promise of turning around their fortunes. The Catalan lawyer had even suggested that he could deliver David Beckham’s signature – only to be gazumped by Real Madrid.
“Luckily for us, Ronaldinho was too ugly for Real Madrid,” Laporta later joked of the first marquee signing of his presidency.
“So when we wanted to sign him, Madrid didn’t try to stop us.”
Ronaldinho had already caught the eye in Brazil’s 2002 World Cup triumph and was establishing himself as something of a world-beater at PSG. He lived up to his billing at the Camp Nou, shining in back-to-back La Liga title wins and the Champions League victory of 2006.
He peaked at Barcelona, becoming the best – and definitely the most fun – footballer in the world in the mid-noughties, which was recognised by his 2005 Ballon d’Or.
It’s strange to think now, but many considered Quaresma to be the most prodigiously talented Sporting Lisbon academy graduate back in 2003. It was the subject of some debate about which Portuguese starlet would go on to have the better career.
Admittedly, it’s safe to say that there’s no such debate 20 years later, although Quaresma didn’t exactly have a bad career – he received 80 caps for Portugal and won plenty of silverware. But the most mercurial of mercurial wingers never quite thrived at the very top level.
He lasted just one season at the Camp Nou before returning to Portugal to sign for European champions Porto, moving in a swap deal for Deco. Quaresma never quite settled at Barcelona and spectacularly fell out with Frank Rijkaard but he did provide one or two moments of magic.
G⚽️AL OF THE DAY
@ 07RQuaresma 🚀 pic.twitter.com/yy20kTZk2l
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) July 30, 2021
Former Mexico stalwart Marquez – one of a select few to represent their country at five World Cups – was one of two Jorge Mendes clients to move to the Camp Nou in the summer of 2003.
“I’m very proud because I arrived at a time when Barcelona were not winning trophies. I was part of their rebuild and I am very proud of being a part of this time,” he later reminisced.
The centre-back left Didier Deschamps’ Monaco was indeed a key part of their rebuild. He lasted seven years at the club, in which time he won four La Liga titles and two Champions Leagues, eventually departing after moving to the periphery in Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering team.