Cristiano Ronaldo’s five senior debuts in his career and how he fared in them

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Cristiano Ronaldo makes his Manchester United debut, August 2003.

Cristiano Ronaldo is now preparing for his second Manchester United debut – but how has he fared on his previous debuts at club and international level?

Ronaldo is now regarded as one of the best players of all time and has often made a brilliant first impression when making a senior debut.

We’ve taken a look at his five professional debuts to see how he generally performs in them.

Sporting Lisbon

Despite only being 17 years old, Ronaldo earned a promotion to Sporting’s first-team squad in August 2002 after impressing in their pre-season friendlies.

He then made his competitive debut against Inter Milan in a Champions League qualifier, coming off the bench in the 58th minute at the Jose Alvalade Stadium.

“I remember when he entered the field, midway through the second half,” Portuguese reporter Pedro Marques told UEFA in 2017.

“I heard a supporter near me saying: ‘This is the kid I was talking to you about. Just wait and see.’ So there were already people eager to see him play.”

The winger showed glimpses of his talent and embarrassed Luigi Di Biagio with a great piece of skill but was unable to make a major impact as the game finished 0-0.

Ronaldo made another three substitute appearances before scoring a brace on his first start in a Primeira Liga game against Moreirense.

Manchester United

After embarrassing John O’Shea in a pre-season friendly in August 2003, Ronaldo convinced Sir Alex Ferguson to bring him to Old Trafford in a £12.24million deal.

Nine days after that friendly in Lisbon, the winger was named on the bench for United’s Premier League game against Bolton Wanderers.

With United leading 1-0 at Old Trafford, he replaced Nicky Butt in the 61st minute and took his place on the left wing.

Ronaldo, wearing the iconic No.7 he had inherited from David Beckham, began entertaining the home crowd and left Bolton’s defenders feeling dizzy with his brilliant footwork.

He won a penalty that Ruud van Nistelrooy missed and also had a hand in three second-half goals as United went on to win 4-0.

“It was undoubtedly the most exciting debut performance I’ve ever seen,” George Best said after the game.

“There have been players who have some similarities [to me], but this lad’s got more than anyone else, especially as he is genuinely two-footed.

“He can play on either wing, beat players with ease and put in dangerous crosses with his left or right peg. When was the last time you saw that?”

Portugal

The excitement around Ronaldo started to build following his United debut, and he made his international bow just a few days later.

The teenager replaced Luis Figo at half-time in Portugal’s friendly against Kazakhstan and nearly made an immediate impact, going on a mazy run before forcing a save from the goalkeeper.

He was full of confidence and showed no fear of having the ball at his feet, showcasing his skills and taking on his opponents at any given opportunity.

Despite only being on the pitch for 45 minutes, Ronaldo received the Man of the Match award and was subsequently named in Portugal’s squad for Euro 2004.

“He already had his sights on becoming great,” Fernando Meira, who was part of the Portugal team that evening, told FourFourTwo in 2020. “He wanted to be the fastest, the strongest, the top scorer. He wanted to be the best at everything.”

Real Madrid

Ronaldo developed into one of the best players in the world at United before completing an £80million move to Madrid in the summer of 2009.

He made his first appearance for the club in a pre-season friendly against Irish side Shamrock Rovers but his competitive debut came against Deportivo La Coruna in La Liga.

Unlike his previous three debuts, Ronaldo was named in the starting Xl and he was part of a front three that featured Raul Gonzalez and Karim Benzema.

The Portugal international missed a great chance in the early stages but got their second goal in a 3-2 win after scoring from the penalty spot, the first of his 451 goals for Los Blancos.

“I felt good; it’s always important to get off to a winning start,” Ronaldo said after the game. “I’m delighted that the team’s in good shape, now we have to continue improving.”

Juventus

Ronaldo went nine years without making another debut but then joined Juventus in a £99.2million deal in 2018.

He was thrown straight into the starting Xl and made his first appearance in their Serie A clash against Chievo, helping the Bianconeri to a 3-2 win at the Stadio Marcantonio Bentegodi.

But Ronaldo wasn’t able to get on the scoresheet as he was thwarted several times by Chievo goalkeeper Stefano Sorrentino.

The forward was also penalised for handball in the build-up to what Juventus thought was a late winner, although Federico Bernardeschi spared his blushes and netted a legitimate goal in injury time.

“Physically, Ronaldo held out well on his debut considering he has only been training with us for seven days and he did really well,” Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri said.

“He pulled their defence around, he moved between the lines and, on several occasions, he wasn’t served with the ball. You can already see that he is a different player. I was struck by how easily he has blended into the team and he was very happy with the win at the end.”


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Can you name Portugal’s XI from Ronaldo’s competitive debut in 2004?

‘He did the most audacious piece of skill’ – Ronaldo’s early days at Man Utd