For many of the Cristiano Ronaldo fans across the globe, the only memories of him as a Manchester United player will be the final two seasons at Old Trafford, during which the Portuguese forward established himself as one of the two best players in the world.
Such has been the 36-year-old’s longevity and popularity among those on social media, as well as rip-roaring success at Real Madrid, it’s easy to forget that this was a player far from the finished product.
Labeled a show pony during his early days at United before morphing into perhaps the greatest marksman in the history of the game, there were many frustrations as to his tendency to hold onto the ball too long.
What has rarely ever been in doubt, however, is Ronaldo’s ability to step up to the big occasion.
Indeed, highlights from his first cup final as a United player prove exactly that.
Some may point out the fact that Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were playing against Championship outfit Millwall but, still, they had earned the right to be there and the FA Cup is littered with infamous giant killings.
Sadly for the Londoners, the 2004 edition of the world’s oldest cup competition’s finale didn’t prove to be one. Rather, it announced Ronaldo on the biggest stage, as you can see in the video below.
This was a United team in transition. After winning the 2002-03 Premier League title, Arsenal and Chelsea had started to emerge as the leading teams in England, leaving Ferguson without a title until 2006-07.
The likes of Roy Keane and Ruud van Nistelrooy were in the final stretches of their Old Trafford careers while the likes of Eric Djemba-Djemba, Roy Carroll and Phil Neville were some of the more prominent options off the bench.
None of that mattered to Ronaldo.
Driving at the opposition defence with the kind of grace we’ve seen so often over the years, his rabona cross for Paul Scholes (who duly missed the ball entirely) was an illustration of the flair the young Portugal forward boasted.
Not content with dominating on the ground, Gary Neville found him with a cross to score what is now a trademark header, putting United ahead in a game they would eventually win 3-0.
Inside the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on May 22nd, 2004, Ronaldo showed the world what was coming.