Gary Neville had the honour of playing with some terrific footballers in his storied career.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney at Manchester United, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and John Terry with England.
“Oh my God,” were the words that came into Neville’s mind when he first watched Ronaldo in action, for Sporting Lisbon against United in 2003.
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Ronaldo, 18 at the time, created two goals and put on such a show that Sir Alex Ferguson couldn’t leave Portugal without him. Six days after that friendly, United signed the teenager.
So enthralled was Neville that he felt the need to text his brother, Phil. “We need to sign him,” Gary wrote.
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Only one other player has produced a similar response from the former right back, and it’s certainly not an obvious choice.
Remember Louis Saha? Neville viewed him in the same bracket as Ronaldo.
'Saha destroyed me'
“The only other opposition player I've felt like that about was Louis Saha,” Neville wrote in his column for Sky Sports. “I remember playing against him as a centre-back when he was at Fulham and he destroyed me three seasons on the bounce.
“I was devastated when I had to play against him and I thought 'we've got to sign him'.
“He was clearly a different type of player to Cristiano, but we spoke about him in the dressing room in the same way.”
Five years at United
Fortunately for Neville, his desire to see Saha at Old Trafford was met when, in January 2004, United paid Fulham £12.8 million for his services.
But when Ronaldo began to settle in England, one presumes it quickly dawned on Neville that the Portuguese was on a different level to Saha.
The Frenchman was a bit-part player in his five seasons at the club. He scored 28 goals in 86 league appearances for United before leaving for Everton in 2008.
There was always plenty of competition for places up front at United during Saha’s time at the club.
“That is something that I had with Ruud van Nistelrooy, Carlos Tevez, Alan Smith, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo,” Saha told MUTV in March. “When you play around them you have to really perform every weekend, so that is something that United need to find as quickly as possible."
Current United boss Jose Mourinho probably wishes he had the attacking quality of some of those players right now. His current options include Jesse Lingard and Rooney, whose best years are beyond him.
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