Manchester United’s match against Sporting Lisbon in August 2003 was arguably the most important pre-season friendly in the club’s history.
The Red Devils probably wouldn’t have signed Cristiano Ronaldo - the inspiration behind the club’s Premier League title triumphs in 2007, 2008 and 2009, not to mention the 2008 Champions league - had they not travelled to Portugal for the friendly.
Sir Alex Ferguson admitted at the time that the United players, who had been left terrorised by the 18-year-old Ronaldo, pleaded with him to secure the starlet’s services on the plane back to Manchester.
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Days later and the deal was done for £12.24 million.
"After we played Sporting last week the lads in the dressing room talked about him constantly, and on the plane back from the game they urged me to sign him - that's how highly they rated him,” Ferguson was quoted as saying by BBC Sport back in 2003. "He is one of the most exciting young players I've ever seen."
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Giggs: Ronaldo destroying O'Shea made me laugh
Ryan Giggs has spoken about how Ronaldo “lit up the game” that night and left the entire squad wondering what Ferguson was waiting for.
The Welshman - speaking on ITV Sport, per Goal - also admitted that Ronaldo was so impressive in the match, particularly against poor old John O’Shea, that he ended up laughing.
“You see Ronaldo get the ball, and you see him turn John O'Shea inside out, and you're having a little giggle to yourself,” Giggs said.
“He just lit up the game, all the lads were talking to him after the game and I remember we were waiting on the coach and everybody was wondering what we were waiting for.
“And then we just got a little whisper that the deal was being done for £13 million.”
Video: Ronaldo v United (2003)
Ronaldo's rise to greatness
After a couple of frustrating seasons, Giggs revealed that Ronaldo reported back to pre-season training one summer as a “man”.
The Portuguese star, who lifted the Euro 2016 trophy after Sunday’s win over France, scored a magnificent 91 goals in his final three seasons at Old Trafford.
He then secured a dream £80 million transfer to Real Madrid in the summer of 2009, making him the most expensive player in football history until Gareth Bale’s move to the Bernabeu from Tottenham four years later.
Was Cristiano Ronaldo Sir Alex Ferguson’s best signing? Have your say by leaving a comment below.
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