John O’Shea explains why he struggled against Cristiano Ronaldo in 2003 friendly

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John O’Shea plays a role - perhaps not a key role, but a role nonetheless - in the story of Cristiano Ronaldo.

It was O’Shea who Ronaldo found himself up against in that 2003 friendly between Sporting and Manchester United.

Ronaldo ran O’Shea ragged and the United players, gobsmacked by 18-year-old’s exceptional talent, pleaded with Sir Alex Ferguson to sign the Portuguese wonderkid in time for the start of the 2003-04 campaign.

Little did they know, however, that Ferguson - wily and shrewd as ever - was already close to completing a deal for the teenager.

A £12.2 million transfer was swiftly agreed and the rest, as they say, is history.

Even Fergie gave O'Shea some stick

A host of United players have told the story of how O’Shea received some serious stick on the flight back to Manchester.

Even Ferguson, in his 2013 autobiography, wrote: "The first pass Ronaldo took prompted me to howl: 'For Christ's sake, John, get tight to him!’

"John shrugged his shoulders. A look of plain bewilderment was creeping across his face. The other players in the dugout were saying; 'Bloody hell, boss, he's some player him.'

"I said, 'It's all right. I've got him sorted,' as if the deal had been done ten years ago. I told Albert, our kit man: 'Get up to that directors' box and get (Peter) Kenyon (the United chief executive) down at half-time.'

"I told Peter, 'We're not leaving this ground until we've got that boy signed.'

'Is he that good?' Kenyon asked.

"John O'Shea's ended up with a migraine!" I said. "Get him signed."

O'Shea finally has his say on that 2003 friendly

It’s a great story - although O’Shea believes that certain tales have been slightly exaggerated over the years.

And the Irish defender feels it may have been a different story had he not been suffering from jet-lag that evening.

"We flew back from a tour of America and straight to Lisbon with severe jet-lag," O’Shea told ESPN FC.

"Normally everyone wants to play games, but on this occasion everybody had had a terrible nights' sleep before the game, waking up at two, three, four in the morning wide awake and not able to get back to sleep.

"So everyone was not, shall we say, in 'peak' condition for the game. Some boys were delighted when the boss announced the team and they weren't starting!"

"On to the game and I'm starting right-back," he added. "Just before the game kicks off, I look up and a young Ronaldo is staring straight at me.

"He's there and full of concentration, ready to go.

"Now in some books written by former colleagues, there have been some highly exaggerated stories, and believe it or not, about how much 'Ronnie' went past me time after time, and ripped me apart!

"My version would be different, but he did have an excellent game.

"At one stage, I remember looking at the dugout when the ball had gone out for a throw-in and some of the lads on the bench were having a good laugh, thinking that's the last thing you need when jet-lagged -- a young lad wanting to run at you time and time again, going left, going right, twisting turning, shooting every time he got within distance of the goal.

"But in a roundabout way, I take it as a compliment that the boss wanted to sign Ronaldo so quickly after the game, because of how he had performed against me that night.

"He wanted him to join straight away rather than staying on loan at Sporting Lisbon for another year to develop.

"I believe the deal was in place for Ronaldo to stay in Lisbon and then come to Manchester the following season, but after his display of skill and maturity on the night, the boss made sure we didn't leave Lisbon without him, he was ready."

Highlights: Sporting 3-1 United

United suffered a 3-1 defeat and highlights of the match - a significant match in Ronaldo’s career - can be seen here…

Alex Ferguson
Paul Scholes
Manchester United
Premier League
Ryan Giggs
Cristiano Ronaldo
John O'Shea

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