It seems almost a lifetime ago since Cristiano Ronaldo first burst onto the scene. I am sure many of you will be familiar with the story Manchester United faced Sporting Lisbon in a preseason friendly back in August 2003 when a certain Portuguese teenager announced himself to the footballing world and his name was Cristiano Ronaldo.
Its not often you embarrass the whole Manchester United defence but Ronaldo did exactly that. It was clear he had something special in those football boots and it wasn’t too long later when Sir Alex Ferguson signed up Ronaldo in a £12.24 million pound deal.
Right from the off Ronaldo looked at home and there was little doubt the he would go on and become one of the world’s best it was just a matter time. His debut against Bolton Wanderers is still highly remembered amongst the United faithful as he lit up Old Trafford. Even when simply receiving the ball at his feet the crowd were up off their seats in anticipation waiting for something special to happen.
As his early seasons at the club it would be inconsistency and his decision making in the final third which remained his biggest issue with more often than not Ronaldo opting for the for the fancy step overs instead of a pass. The trickery was fascinating to watch but it had to be at the right times in games. The club’s struggle on the field too probably didn’t help Ronaldo as United fell short of Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea’s title winning side in 2005 and 2006. It wouldn’t be till the summer of 2006 where the real transition of Ronaldo would take place.
His incident with then teammate Wayne Rooney during the World Cup of 2006 will live long in the memory for really all the wrong reasons really. Ronaldo seemed to play a key role in Rooney getting sent off. This was arguably one of the most crucial moments in his career. The abuse aimed at the Portuguese star was shades of, if not just as intense as, David Beckham back at the 1998 World Cup after getting sent off against Argentina. Would he stay and prove the doubters wrong at Old Trafford or should he take the cowardly option out and leave the club to seek a move abroad? Fortunately for Ronaldo he stayed and the rest is history.
The following season we witnessed the complete transition of Cristiano Ronaldo, the waiting was over. The 2006/07 season would be the campaign in which Ronaldo established himself as one of the world’s best. After starting emphatically against Fulham at Old Trafford he didn’t look back. If you had to pick one moment which defined him that season it would be his sensational solo goal against Fulham at Craven Cottage which all but clinched the Premier League for Manchester United. Everything he touched turned to gold opposition defenders just couldn’t handle him. He ended the campaign scoring a total of 23 goals his personal best so far.
If the 2006/07 season was the stuff dreams are made of then the 2007/08 campaign would be something out of this world. Ronaldo reigned supreme scoring in all a whopping total of 42 goals in all competitions helping Manchester United win the Premier League and the UEFA Champions League. It was like something I had never witnessed before almost, like we had our very own Hollywood superstar at the club, and he became more than just a football player as “Viva Ronaldo” echoed around Old Trafford it became a privilege to go Old Trafford each week. This isn’t to say the others players played there role as without any doubt United had one if not the strongest squad in Europe that season but Ronaldo was the special one, the one you would just pay to watch him play. Ronaldo had finally become the best player in the world.
It was much again the same from Ronaldo and Manchester United the following season (2008/09) as they won yet another Premier League title. From April onwards in particular Ronaldo took it upon himself to almost win games on his own. Much similar to the previous seasons when the big games came Ronaldo didn’t disappoint. From moments such as his stunning 40-yard long range goal against Porto in the second leg of the Champions League quarter finals to his superb display against Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford. It was only a crying shame that it ended with a defeat to Barcelona in the Champions league Final and this was to be the last time we witnessed Ronaldo in a Manchester United shirt.
It was almost inevitable Real Madrid would come calling for Ronaldo when news came through on 111 June 2009 that the club had accepted a world record fee of £80 million for the Portuguese star it brought to the end of an era, a love affair if you like between Ronaldo and the United faithful who had taken him in like one of our own. He may have left 11 years ago but the memories remain in the hearts of Manchester United fans.