Cristiano Ronaldo has left an enormous legacy in European football, but things could have panned out very differently had Manchester United not signed him in 2003.
The Red Devils snapped up a teenage Ronaldo for £12million from Sporting Lisbon, although they were not alone in their interest at the time.
We’ve gone through the seven clubs that nearly signed a teenage Ronaldo in 2003 ahead of the Red Devils.
Ronaldo ended up in Turin in 2018 anyway, but he could have been playing at the Allianz Stadium much sooner. Italian agent Alessandro Moggi claimed that the Italian club was on the brink of sealing a deal.
Moggi told Tuttosport: “In 2003, Mendes was looking to engineer a move for his first great player: Cristiano Ronaldo. He was a kid of 18 who had just made his debut for Sporting and Mendes wanted him to move to Italy.
“We tried to help them out and offered him to Parma and Lazio but he was rejected by both. Juventus on the other hand said yes and sent us to Lisbon with Mendes to tie up the deal with Sporting.
“In a matter of half a day, he became a Manchester United player. It was a deal that could have changed the history of European football. I thought about it a million times during the days I was in Lisbon.”
Cristiano Ronaldo with Juventus:
👕 134 matches
⚽️ 101 goals
🎯 22 assists
🏆 2x Série A
🏆 2x Supercoppa Italiana
🏆 1x Coppa Italia.
— The CR7 Timeline. (@TimelineCR7) February 5, 2023
There’s no doubt that the landscape of English football would have shifted vastly if Liverpool managed to sign Ronaldo as a teenager ahead of United.
Phil Thompson who was the Liverpool assistant at the time lifted the lid on how their negotiations went down. “I can still remember [agent] Tony’s [Henry] exact words,” he told The Athletic.
“It was all very nice and relaxed. ‘It’s £4 million and it can be paid over the four years of his contract, so £1 million a year’. That seemed very reasonable. Then I asked about the salary and Tony told me it was £1 million a year, net.”
However, it didn’t take long before United blew them out of the water. Thompson added: “On the Tuesday morning, we were having lunch at the training ground and it came up on the yellow strap on Sky Sports, ‘Manchester United have signed Cristiano Ronaldo for £12.2 million’.
“Gerard and myself almost choked on our food. I can remember Gerard jumping up and saying, ‘What the hell has gone on there?’”
Arsene Wenger has cited that one of his biggest managerial regrets was failing to get a deal over the line for Ronaldo back in 2003. The Gunners were the Premier League powerhouse at the time, along with United.
“We thought it was possible,” Wenger told LadBible. “If we had been a fraction quicker, a few days because we had agreed and then Manchester United came in 5 or 6 days later.
“When I had Thierry, I could have signed [Cristiano] Ronaldo – can you imagine what they could have done together? That makes you sweat a little bit, and I was very close to doing it. I thought it was all done.
“It was that close [holding his index finger and thumb within a millimetre of each other]. But I would say that every club could tell you stories like that.”
Ronaldo ripping things up in Ligue 1 would have been fun. The Portuguese superstar could have ended up in France, had Lyon not turned down the chance to sign him.
Former Lyon forward Tony Vairelles claimed that Ronaldo was involved in a swap deal which would have seen the two players moving in the opposite direction.
Vairelles told Canal: “They proposed an exchange between Ronaldo and another player, who would be loaned to Lyon, and I would join Sporting Lisbon. This was in 2002, he was still young (17 years old). Lyon should be displeased for turning the deal down, it’s a funny anecdote.”
Ronaldo soon came back to haunt the French side.
— UnitedReds (@UnitedRedscom) March 4, 2022
A teenage Wayne Rooney linking up with Ronaldo at Goodison Park would have been special. According to the Messi v Ronaldo book, this very nearly happened. Everton were offered Ronaldo for just £2million in 2002, but decided against the deal.
Instead of signing Ronaldo in 2002 they instead signed 35-year-old David Ginola who only went on to make seven appearances for the club before hanging up his boots.
This one would have been epic. Barcelona president Joan Laporta clarified that they were in negotiations with Sporting Lisbon to bring him to La Liga.
“We had signed Ronaldinho, [Rafael] Marquez and [Ricardo] Quaresma,” Laporta told Marca. “We were in a process of reconstruction throughout the whole club.
“[Ronaldo] was at Sporting at the time, before Manchester United, and we were speaking with his agent who wanted to sell us Deco. We said that we couldn’t because we weren’t able to [spend that much at the time], so he told us he had another really good kid.
“It was Ronaldo. He had a deal with United for €19 million, but we were offered him for €17m.”
The Spanish outfit had their eyes on Ronaldo before he had even made his debut for Sporting Lisbon. Despite their early scouting mission, they missed out the winger due to a lack of finances at the time.
Carlos Rincon a Malaga scout told Marca: “Cristiano had not yet made his debut for Sporting’s first team, and we made an offer through Jorge Mendes.
“Mendes took the offer and we hoped to bring the player to Malaga, he was the player he is now but as a young man, he had physical power and could strike a ball.
“At the time we made an offer of €1.5million and Sporting felt he was worth €3.5million, we couldn’t increase our offer because of financial limits placed upon us.”