IN August 2003, 18-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo signed with Manchester United for €15 million.
Ronaldo recalls: “When I arrived at Old Trafford, Mr Ferguson asked me what number shirt I would like. I said 28. ‘No, you’re going to have No. 7,’ said the manager.
“From then on the famous numbered shirt was an extra source of motivation.
I had to, being forced really, to live up to such an honour, knowing that so many great players had donned the same number seven shirt before me, superstars like George Best, Eric Cantona, Bryan Robson and David Beckham,” he said.
Ronaldo made his United debut as a 60th-minute substitute in a 4–0 home Premiership victory over Bolton Wanderers in September 2003.
He scored his first goal for the Reds with a splendid free-kick in a 3–0 win over Portsmouth soon afterwards and netted the opening goal in United’s 3–0 FA Cup final victory over Millwall to finish his first season in English football with six goals to his credit in 30 outings.
He also gained 13 full caps for his country – an excellent start all round. Over the next five seasons, up to May 2009, Ronaldo was a regular marksman for the Reds.
He scored a total of 118 goals in 292 first team appearances, having his best campaign in 2007-8 when he struck 42 times in 47 outings.
He weighed in with his 100th United goal in a 5-0 win over Stoke City in November 2008 (in his 253rd appearance) and during his six years at Old Trafford he helped the Reds win nine trophies – three Premierships, two League Cups, the FA Cup, the Champions League, the Community Shield and the FIFA World Club Cup.
He also inspired Portugal to the final of Euro 2004 where they lost to Greece – this after United’s fans had voted him to his first FIFPro Special Young Player of the Year award, an honour he would receive again in 2005.
He represented his country in the 2004 Olympic Games. In October 2005, Ronaldo had the pleasure of scoring Manchester United’s 1,000th goal in the Premiership, although it counted for nothing in a 4–1 defeat at Middlesbrough.
And we all know he has a temper and can often annoy opponents and officials alike. He has been sent-off five times in his career so far. His first dismissal came in the 3-1 Manchester derby defeat at the City of Manchester Stadium in mid-January 2006…for kicking ex-United player Andrew Cole.
Also, all England supporters who saw the World Cup quarter-final match against Portugal in July 2006, will recall Ronaldo’s United team-mate Wayne Rooney being sent-off for stamping on defender Ricardo Carvalho.
The English media speculated that Ronaldo had influenced referee Horacio Elizondo’s decision by aggressively complaining, after which he was seen in replays winking at the Portuguese bench following Rooney’s dismissal. After the match, Ronaldo insisted that Rooney was a friend and that he was not pushing for Rooney to be dismissed.
Soon afterwards, the match official clarified that the red card was due to Rooney’s infraction and not the fracas between him and Ronaldo.
By Tony Matthews, author of more than 100 published football books