It took just 45 minutes for Sir Alex Ferguson to decide to sign a certain Cristiano Ronaldo from Sporting Lisbon. John O’Shea struggled against the pace, athleticism, skills and raw talent of the 17 year old. The United squad had seen enough to convince Sir Alex to sign Ronaldo.
Sir Alex refused to leave Sporting’s new stadia unless he was taking Ronaldo back with him. And he went home happy as Cristiano Ronaldo joined the club in August 2003. If there was any recurring doubts in the minds of the fans as to what prompted Ferguson to splash £12.2m, it was put to bed in half an hour of action against Bolton Wanderers. Sir Alex put him in for the final half hour of a match at a time United lead 1-0. When full time came the score was 4-0.
Ronaldo’s first contribution was to get battered by Bolton’s Nicky Hunt. But it was the last time Hunt got the better of Ronaldo in the match. Ronaldo’s first meaningful contribution was a silky turn to escape his man. He then went on for run spiced with stepovers. The run is now synonymous with Ronaldo’s game. He was unlucky to have slipped after putting it between two Bolton players.
For the rest of the match, the United squad got the ball into Ronaldo’s feet more often than not and each time it resulted in the debutant breezing past his marker. Fancy flicks, tremendous bursts of pace and defenders on the floor in Ronaldo’s wake was the norm for the final half an hour of the game. The 18 year old made beating multiple defenders look like eating a piece of cake. I have often lost track of the number of inch perfect crosses he put in for Ruud van Nistelrooy.
The highlight of the debut has to be Ronaldo breezing past FIVE Bolton defenders before being chopped by Ivan Campo. The commentator can be heard saying “Dear me, he’s got it all.” Each time the ball reached Ronaldo, the buzz around the stadium was undeniable. The fans knew they were watching something special, someone special.
It was a sublime debut for Ronaldo who absolutely terrorised defenses with his pace, stepovers and nutmegs. Cristiano even got a few kicks for his troubles but you have to give credit to the 18 year old for refusing to be bullied.
United legend George Best was once asked for his thoughts on Ronaldo’s debut. Here’s what he said: “A few of my old team-mates were at the game and they compared him to me. There have been a few players described as ‘the new George Best’ over the years, but this is the first time it’s been a compliment to me. There have been players who have some similarities, 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? Having uncovered a little gem in Ronaldo, it’s hard to imagine another European Cup triumph is too far away.” And Best was right. United were kings of Europe once again in 2008. Unfortunately, Best was not among us but he was right. So was Ferguson, who said: “It looks like the fans have a new hero. It was a marvellous debut, almost unbelievable.”
Ronaldo went on to achieve brilliant things at United and even after leaving the club for Real Madrid. When Madrid visited United in the Champions League back in 2013, Ronaldo was reserved the loudest cheer by the United faithful when the lineups were announced.
The boy became a legend and echoes of Viva Ronaldo can still be heard raining down from the Old Trafford rafters.