Most Manchester United fans of a certain age will still be able to recall the first moment they saw Cristiano Ronaldo play.
It was in a friendly against Sporting Lisbon back in August 2003 and the young Portuguese winger was unstoppable.
The United stars playing that night, just like the fans who’d travelled out to Lisbon and those watching at home, were left gobsmacked by Ronaldo’s brilliance.
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On the flight home, they pleaded with Sir Alex Ferguson to sign the teenager, convinced he was a superstar in the making.
At the same time, they ripped it out of poor John O’Shea, who was left with twisted blood by the Sporting prodigy.
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Gary text Phil after watching Ronaldo
Gary Neville was injured at the time and would have played instead of O’Shea had he been fit, but watched the action unfold from his house back in England.
“What a player, I thought,” Neville told Sky Sports this week. “After the match I remember sending a text to my brother, saying 'we need to sign him' and apparently there was a lot of talk about him on the coach after the game.
“Obviously players should never be involved in signings, but he certainly made everyone sit up and take notice. I'd never heard of him and I'd never seen him before that night, but there was a huge excitement among the players afterwards.”
Neville: I felt sorry for O'Shea
Neville, however, admits he felt sorry for O’Shea and believes Ronaldo would also have embarrassed him had he played that night.
“Poor Sheasy was the butt of a lot of jokes for being given a run-around,” the current Sky Sports pundit continued. “But I have to be honest, I felt for him.
“If I'd been playing that night he'd have done the same to me.”
Fergie was already working to sign Ronaldo
Ferguson didn’t need any words of advice from his players on their return journey to Manchester; unsurprisingly, he was already one step ahead of everyone else.
“What we didn't realise is that the manager had been dealing with it for a period of time before then. Sir Alex Ferguson signed him shortly afterwards,” Neville added.
“Cristiano was very raw when he first came to the club; he had a lot of growing up to do and like all young players he needed time to develop.
“It took a few years for his body to fill out and he needed time to get his decision-making right but you would expect that from a young player. And over two-and-a-half years he became a devastating player, improving himself both physically and mentally.
“For me, it felt like he matured and became a man after the 2006 World Cup. After that tournament he became a completely different player.”
Was Cristiano Ronaldo the best signing of the Sir Alex Ferguson era? Have your say by leaving a comment below.
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