Manchester United’s rich history seen some of the worlds greatest players pull on the famous red shirt and perhaps none more so than Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, who signed for the club twenty years ago to the day (Saturday).
As the story goes, it was a pre-season game against Ronaldo and boyhood side Sporting Lisbon that left Sir Alex Ferguson adamant he wasn’t leaving Portugal without the young prodigy’s signature.
Thus, a deal was done and the summer of 2003 saw Ronaldo presented as a United player at the tender age of 18. A debut soon followed and Bolton Wanderers were the first to be teased and tormented by the electricity of Ronaldo. His 30 minute cameo bamboozled the visitors and the Theatre of Dreams had a new lead man.
An inevitable period of inconsistency then followed, with the mercurial talent learning the ways of the English game – a lot of the time the hard way. Opposition players attempted to kick the belief out of the forward but his incredible appetite and bravery just continued to grow.
The summer of 2006 saw his infamous involvement with United teammate Wayne Rooney‘s red card which helped Portugal ease past England in the quarter-final of the World Cup.
Questions were raised as to whether Ronaldo would return to Manchester for the new season. He did – and how. Ronaldo had grown into a man and produced an outstanding campaign. His style had turned to substance and he helped United wrestle back the Premier League crown, scoring 23 and assisting 14 goals in all competitions.
However, it was the following season that will go down in history more than any other; 42 goals in 49 games including the opener in the Champions League final drove United to a League and Champions League double and led Ronaldo to his first Ballon d’Or.
Unfortunately for United, with such prestige came the inevitable calling of Real Madrid. The Portuguese star was destined to move to the Spanish capital and after another impressive season and third league title in a row at Old Trafford, his wish was granted for a record-breaking £80million fee.
Ronaldo went on to win a further four Ballon d’Ors and proceeded to break record after record at the Bernabeu before eventually leaving for Juventus in 2018.
With United fans watching on with pride, the summer of 2021 presented the club with the opportunity to re-sign their prodigal son, who was now arguably the most famous man on the planet.
Then-United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer welcomed Ronaldo back with open arms and his return was greeted with the excitement comparable to anything seen in United’s history.
His debut was typical Ronaldo. Two goals in a 4-1 win against Newcastle looked set to be the catalyst for a dream return to the club. However, despite finishing as top scorer in his first season back and providing some more magical moments, particularly in Europe, United suffered a poor campaign and finished well outside the Champions League positions.
Erik ten Hag was then introduced the following season and the marriage was never going to last. Ten Hag’s high octane style wasn’t suited to a 37-year-old and Ronaldo left the club under acrimonious circumstances halfway through the season.
However, messy ending aside, Ronaldo will forever be remembered as one of the greatest to ever do it for United. A true superstar, forged in Manchester.