Recalling Cristiano Ronaldo’s unforgettable introduction to Manchester United fans.
The summer transfer window of 2003 was a significant one for Manchester United.
After reclaiming the Premier League title from Arsenal, United fans were rocked by David Beckham’s departure to Real Madrid.
Juan Sebastian Veron also left with the Argentine pass-master joining the Roman Abramovich revolution at Chelsea.
Most of United’s arrivals that summer are remembered for the wrong reasons. Kleberson, Eric Djemba-Djemba and David Bellion were all brought in. None of them succeeded.
Having run rings around John O’Shea while playing for Sporting Lisbon against United during the Red Devils’ pre-season tour of the United States, Ronaldo moved to Old Trafford for £12.24m.
United had chased Ronaldinho that summer before the Brazilian ultimately decided to join Barcelona. Thankfully for Ferguson, the step-over-happy player he did sign turned out to be a club legend.
The buzz around Ronaldo ahead of his United debut was immense. Only 18, he was handed the famed No.7 shirt after signing, following in the footsteps of Beckham, Eric Cantona and George Best.
Ferguson resisted the urge to throw the Portuguese teenager in at the deep end at the first time of asking, however, as Ronaldo took his place among the substitutes for United’s Premier League opener at home to Bolton Wanderers.
Ryan Giggs gave United the lead in the first half with a well-struck free-kick, but with a second goal proving elusive, Ferguson turned to Ronaldo.
The youngster replaced Nicky Butt just after the hour-mark and didn’t need long to make an impression.
Deployed on the left-wing, Ronaldo proved a handful for the Bolton defence, winning a penalty after having his shirt tugged by Kevin Nolan.
Jussi Jaaskelainen saved Ruud van Nistelrooy’s spot-kick, but that did not deter United, or Ronaldo.
Ronaldo runs Bolton ragged on Man United debut.
Ronaldo was the architect of United’s second as his cross found Paul Scholes inside the box. Scholes found Van Nistelrooy and while Jaaskelainen was again equal to the Dutchman, Giggs was on hand to tap home.
After switching to the right flank, Ronaldo created chances for Diego Forlan and Van Nistelrooy, but neither could convert.
Van Nistelrooy did get his goal, of course, smashing home United’s fourth after Scholes had put them 3-0 up.
Giggs started his season with two goals, but all the talk was about United’s new No.7. Everyone was impressed with his dazzling introduction, including his manager.
“The Bolton defenders ended up in knots,” Ferguson wrote in his 2013 autobiography.
“The right-back rattled him straight away in the centre of the park, took the ball off him, but Cristiano got straight back up and demanded another pass.
“Right away. ‘He’s got the balls, anyway,’ I thought.”
Ferguson went on to discuss how the fans inside Old Trafford instantly embraced Ronaldo as their new star.
“The crowd on that side of the ground responded as if a Messiah had materialised right before their eyes.
‘Biggest impact since Cantona.’
“The Old Trafford crowd build up heroes quickly. They see someone who gets their rears off seats and take to him right away.
“Ronaldo had the biggest impact on Manchester United fans of any player since Eric Cantona.
“He could never have matched the idolatry that came with Cantona, because Eric had all this defiant charisma, but his talent was instantly apparent.”
While that debut wasn’t necessarily a false dawn, it did take Ronaldo a while before he blossomed into a magnificent footballing machine at United.
He scored six times in his first season as United won the FA Cup. The hype around Ronaldo intensified spectacularly during the 2006/07 season when he scored 23 times in all competitions, including 17 in the league as Ferguson’s side prised the title away from Chelsea’s grasp.
The following season, Ronaldo struck 42 times, a haul that may not be surpassed by a United player in our lifetime.