Cristiano Ronaldo recalled the day that everything changed for him in his career when he faced Manchester United for the first time.
In August 2003, Ronaldo’s boyhood club Sporting Lisbon played host to United in a friendly for the inauguration of the new Jose Alvalade Stadium.
Featuring in the match was an 18-year-old Ronaldo, who wore the No.28 jersey, had braces on his teeth and looked somewhat nervous.
At that stage, though, the Portuguese was still a relatively unknown talent in the football world. In fact, the United squad hadn’t even heard of him until Sir Alex Ferguson warned them “he’s quite good” beforehand.
Over the next 90 minutes of football, the teenage winger literally destroyed the Red Devils in Portugal. He tormented the defence with his pace and incredible dribbling skills throughout to help Sporting win 3-1.
— United Xtra (@utdxtra) August 6, 2018
Ronaldo’s stunning performance that day changed everything and United signed him up just five days later for €19m.
“It was the first game in the new Sporting stadium. I remember it perfectly as if it were today,” the now-Juventus star told DAZN.
“I was happy. I was going to play against one of the best teams in the world and the game was spectacular.
“I mentioned to my friends at the Sporting academy that I would play against Manchester and that I was a bit nervous. Nervousness is a part of being a football player in big games.”
Of course, Ronaldo went into the game hoping to impress as Barcelona, Valencia, Juventus, Inter Milan, Liverpool and Arsenal were all keeping tabs.
“I was motivated, I was happy and I knew that if I played well it would generate even more interest, not only from Manchester [United] but from other clubs as well because I was being watched,” continued Ronaldo.
“I felt that many teams came to watch me and of course watch Sporting too. The game went really well for me.
“I try to take all the big challenges as a big test. Not anymore, but when I was younger, it was always a big challenge. Obviously, with maturity, you’re able to control your emotions but I knew it was an important step in my career.
“There were a lot of clubs interested in me at the time. I always had my feet on the ground and I knew that my future would be in football, that I would be a professional footballer and my life would be around football.
On this day In 2003, Cristiano Ronaldo signed for ManUnited in a £12.24m deal from Sporting Lisbon.
The rest… pic.twitter.com/1NQtyVC4tD
— The Sportsman Stats (@SportsmanStats) August 12, 2016
“I was taking it step by step. This time it was about playing, enjoying the game, playing against Manchester [United], a great team, doing my best, trying to play an excellent game and obviously, things went well.”
After the match had finished, the entire United squad urged Ferguson to sign Ronaldo after he blew them away.
The Scottish coach immediately worked on arranging a transfer and sought talks with the teenager. He later labelled him the “one of the most exciting young players” he’d ever seen.
“It was just after the game,” says Ronaldo.
“I remember that the game was over. There was a Sporting director who called me over and said that Ferguson wanted to talk to me.”