Cristiano Ronaldo confessed he “was about to go to Arsenal” before Manchester United jumped the queue and signed him instead.
In 2003, Ronaldo was beginning to capture the interest of Arsenal, Barcelona, Valencia, Juventus and Inter Milan, at his boyhood club Sporting Lisbon.
The 18-year-old had begun exhibiting flashes of his true potential in Portugal and became the subject of many exciting offers. In November 2002, in fact, he had visited Arsene Wenger at Arsenal’s training ground to discuss a transfer.
It seemingly put the Gunners in pole position to sign the future five-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo.
All that changed, though, in a friendly between Sporting and United in August 2003. During the match, Ronaldo literally destroyed the Red Devils defence with his pace and dribbling skills to help the hosts win 3-1.
The Portuguese’s performance that day changed everything, with Sir Alex Ferguson acting immediately afterwards to sign him.
It didn’t take long for the Scot to pull off a deal as United confirmed they had signed Ronaldo for €19m just five days later.
“There had been contacts with so many other teams, Valencia, for example, were one of them,” Ronaldo told TVI.
“I met with Arsene Wenger and was about to go to Arsenal.
“I talked to Barcelona, Real Madrid and Inter too but after the friendly against Manchester United, who were already interested, they became even more interested and they sped up negotiations and signed me.”
The now 34-year-old recently opened up on Sporting’s win over United in an interview earlier this month.
Meanwhile, the failure to sign Ronaldo in 2003 also happened to be one of Wenger’s greatest regrets as Arsenal manager. The Frenchman made this confession upon leaving the club in 2018 after 22 years in charge.
“He was here with his mother and we were very close,” Wenger told Arsenal.com.
“Then Man United came in and they had Carlos Queiroz at the time, who was their coach. United played against Sporting Lisbon and Ronaldo was outstanding and they signed him.
“You could imagine at the time what it would have been like to have Thierry Henry and Ronaldo together. That would certainly have changed a little bit the history of my stay here as well.”