10 years ago today, Cristiano Ronaldo donned the famous white of Real Madrid for the first time following his then world record £80 million move from Manchester United.
One of the finest players of this generation, the Portuguese phenom would go on to spend nine incredible seasons at the Bernabeu scoring 450 goals in just 438 games, winning four Champions League’s, two La Liga’s and a plethora of individual accolades.
But his journey from supremely talented 24-year old to the best player in the world at Real began in the most unusual of settings.
Tallaght Stadium. July 20th. Against Shamrock Rovers.
There was an understandable amount of fanfare in the lead up to Real’s visit to Ireland in July of 2009.
Los Blancos spent ten days in the luxury of Carton House in Co. Kildare, with their friendly against Rovers, the showpiece of a “festival of football” to help commemorate the official opening of Tallaght Stadium.
Temporary seating was installed to jump the capacity up to 10,900 for Ronaldo’s debut, a game that many hoped would also feature the lesser mentioned first appearance of Kaka following his arrival from AC Milan.
The Maldron Hotel in Tallaght found itself fully booked up for the game while the Champion Sports in The Square Shopping Centre said that a number of their shops had sold out of Real Madrid jerseys such was the craze surrounding their visit.
“We’re predicting the store to be very busy with the influx of people to Tallaght for the game, and we’ve put on extra staff for the day,” Craig Dwyer manager of Champion Sports in Tallaght told the Irish Times, prior to the spectacle.
And in truth, that was always what this felt like. Less so a game of football and more so a spectacle, a circus; as if Ronaldo were a show pony and Tallaght Stadium was the paddock for him to trot around for 90 minutes in his pristine white Real kit, while fans watched his every move in awe of the chance they had been given to watch him in his prime.
Even manager Michael O’Neill conceded to his players before the game that the impending result “doesn’t have any value from a football point of view.”
With number nine on his back and the Real crest on his chest for the very first time, Ronaldo took to the Tallaght Stadium turf (having previously been heckled by Rovers fans upon the announcement of his name over the PA system) for his Madrid debut.
The game itself was sadly very flat and on his first appearance, Ronaldo failed to really have any impact at all, skying three shots either wide or over the bar, much to the delight of the Rovers faithful, before rather disappointingly making his way off after 45 minutes.
Real’s manager at the time, Manuel Pellegrini, was keen to see all of his new squad and despite the exit of Ronaldo and lack of Kaka, the near 11,000 in attendance were treated to the likes of Raul, Wesley Sneijder and another debutant in Karim Benzema, whose goal won the game for Madrid.
That season the Portuguese would go on to score 33 goals in 35 appearances for Los Blancos as he failed to let the disappointment of that sunny evening in Tallaght derail his debut campaign.
Rovers would go on to finish second in the League of Ireland, four points behind their bitter Dublin rivals Bohemians who claimed the title ahead of the Hoops.
The game may have flattered to deceive and its centrepiece may have struggled, but given Ronaldo’s spot in the pantheon of footballing greats, his Real Madrid debut in Tallaght Stadium will be an occasion that will live long in footballing folklore.