Cristiano Ronaldo is a Manchester United legend.
Regardless of whether his second spell at Old Trafford turns out to be the messianic-like homecoming that it was billed to be or not, the Portuguese’s place in United‘s history is secured.
Besides, it’s only natural that having an eventual five-time Ballon d’Or winner lifting Champions League and Premier League titles in your jersey is going to make them loved amongst supporters.
The making of Ronaldo at Man Utd
And what makes Ronaldo‘s rise to power at the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ so charming is that when he arrived at the club in 2003, he wasn’t the readymade world-beater that we know and love today.
The signs of greatness were certainly apparent in his outrageous skill and talent, but it wasn’t until the 2006/07 season that he started to become the ultimate footballing machine at Old Trafford.
That’s not a criticism, by the way, because if anything, it actually makes early footage of Ronaldo all the more exciting for being so raw, untamed and scruffy around the edges.
And the footballing embryo of the all-conquering Ronaldo that continues to dominate football today was even apparent in the very first time that he played competitive football for the Red Devils.
Brentford 1-3 Man Utd Match Reaction (Football Terrace)
Ronaldo’s legendary debut
You might be familiar with footage of Ronaldo’s 2003 debut against Bolton Wanderers because, well, he really did hit the ground running at Old Trafford with an electrifying display off the bench.
After all, according to The Sun, none other than George Best said: “Ronaldo’s first United game as a substitute in the season opener against Bolton was undoubtedly the most exciting debut performance I’ve ever seen.
“A few of my old team-mates were at the game and they compared him to me. There have been players who have some similarities, but this lad’s got more than anyone else, especially as he is genuinely two-footed.”
Now, that’s a serious compliment and anyone who has watched the highlights reel of a young and stringy Ronaldo showing Bolton how to play football will know exactly where Best was coming from.
However, all that hype could easily have made other players lose perspective and get ahead of themselves in a way that we’ve seen from many a talented young footballer over the years.
Roy Keane’s typical reaction
But not only was Ronaldo’s mentality unique to other starlets in the beautiful game, but he also had a slew of seasoned professionals around him in the United dressing room to keep him grounded.
And none more so than Roy Keane, who was world-renowned both as a player and now as a pundit for being just about as difficult to please as possible and that was certainly the case with Ronaldo.
In fact, rather brilliantly, footage of Keane’s reaction to Ronaldo’s debut from a review of United’s 2003/04 season has reemerged recently and it sums up the United attitude at the time perfectly.
When you consider just how much hyperbole there would be over a young Ronaldo in 2021, Keane’s typically pragmatic and calculated reaction, which you can check out below, feels perfect.
It’s exactly the sort of attitude that must have been ideal for Ronaldo to keep his feet on the ground.
Ronaldo’s elite mentality
Any young man with that sort of pressure and hype around them at such a young age would be forgiven for getting ahead of themselves, but the influences of players like Keane must have been key.
That attitude of ‘keep working, keep learning’ is exactly what allowed Ronaldo not to be the latest in a long line of exciting starlets to fizzle out, but to become the world-beater that we know now.
So, sure, it’s hard not to giggle a little bit at Keane being so hilariously typical in his downplaying verdict on Ronaldo’s debut, but it was exactly what the United icon needed at that stage in his career.