Cristiano Ronaldo admits he came "within a whisker" of signing for Arsenal before eventually joining their Barclays Premier League rivals Manchester United.
Gunners boss Arsene Wenger met the Portugal winger three times in a bid to bring the player to north London, but United gazumped the deal by entering negotiations and bidding three times what Arsenal offered for the recently-crowned 2008 Ballon d'Or winner.
"I came within a whisker of doing it," said Ronaldo who signed for United in August 2003 for just over £12million pounds in an interview he gave with France Football. "Wenger is someone I respect a lot. He is very intelligent."
Jorge Mendes, Ronaldo's agent, added: "That is what happened. Everyone wanted Cristiano; Real (Madrid), Juventus, Barcelona.
"But only Arsenal and Manchester United attempted to take him from there (Sporting Lisbon) that season. The others wanted to leave him at Sporting at least a year."
It is widely believed Ronaldo's sensational performance in Sporting's 3-1 win over United in a friendly on August 5, 2003 convinced the English club to sign him.
But Mendes revealed a deal had been agreed before that friendly, adding: "Everything was in place before, since an agreement had been reached the day before the match."
Ronaldo has gone on to become arguably the world's greatest player.
Copyright (c) PA Sport 2008, All Rights Reserved.