Liverpool chose not to sign Cristiano Ronaldo from Sporting Lisbon in 2004

  • Kat Lucas

The course of football history changed on August 12, 2003 when Manchester United announced the signing of a little-known Portuguese winger called Cristiano Ronaldo. 

Most news outlets at the time felt the need to clarify: “No, not the Ronaldo”.

Fast-forward 17 years, five Ballons d’Or, over 700 goals, six domestic titles and five Champions League winners’ medals later and we can only marvel at all the 34-year-old has achieved. 

How things might have been different though, if Ronaldo had never joined Manchester United. 

It was inevitable that the young prodigy would leave Sporting Lisbon as his reputation began to grow, but the thought of him in a Liverpool shirt? Unimaginable.

That could well have been the reality.

The Athletic have been giving the lowdown on the ones that got away from the Reds, including Gareth Bale as a 16-year-old at Southampton and more recently, World Cup winning midfielder Nabil Fekir. 

And one story which emerges details how Liverpool considered signing Ronaldo during his time at Sporting, only to decide he had the potential to cause problems in the dressing room. 

Gerard Houllier feared the young attacker would demand such a high salary that he would impact the club’s entire wage structure and risk upsetting other players. 

Liverpool also believed – and we can all laugh in hindsight – that they already had two very talented teenage forwards: Florent Sinama Pongolle and Anthony Le Tallec. 

Former assistant Phil Thompson explained: 

“He was being touted around everyone. Tony Henry, the former Man City midfielder, was working for Paul Stretford, who was tasked by Jorge Mendes to drum up interest in England.

“They were desperate to get Ronaldo out of Sporting and invited me over for a game. I was told the fee was £4 million but they explained that it could be paid over the course of a four-year contract so essentially it was £1 million per year.

“I asked what kind of salary he would want and they said it was £1 million per year after tax. That was a lot for an 18-year-old kid but they said that was negotiable.”

Thompson then learned Ronaldo had signed for United by watching him standing next to Sir Alex Ferguson on Sky Sports News. 

“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” he added. 

“It was astonishing that the fee trebled. He was clearly a big talent but no one could have predicted back then how great he was going to be.”

Ronaldo called Liverpool move a “dream” 

To make matters all the more agonising, Ronaldo had described moving to Anfield as a “dream”. 

“Liverpool are one of the best clubs in England and it would be a dream for any player to represent a club of such traditions,” he told reporters at the time. 

“I will have to hope they make an offer that is good for both Sporting and myself.”

Instead, Liverpool’s dithering meant United swooped in, offering the best £12.5 million they’ve ever spent. 

Surely the champions-elect would never allow such a talent to slip away now. 

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