It seems almost a lifetime ago since Cristiano Ronaldo first burst onto the scene, I am sure many of you will be familiar with the story. Manchester United played Sporting Lisbon in a pre season friendly back in August 2003, when a certain Portuguese teenager announced himself to the footballing world.
Its not often you embarrass the whole Manchester United defence, but Ronaldo did exactly that. It was clear he had something special in those football boots and it wasn’t too long later, when Sir Alex Ferguson signed up Ronaldo in a 12 .24 Million pound deal.
Right from the off Ronaldo looked at home, yes he wasn’t the finished article far from it in fact, but there was little doubt Ronaldo would go on and become one of the worlds best, it was just a matter time. His debut against Bolton Wanderers is still highly remembered amongst the United faithful , as he lit up Old Trafford with his dribbling and trickery on the ball .Even when simply receiving the ball at his feet, the crowd were up in anticipation off there seats waiting for something special to happen.
As his early seasons at the club wore on, inconsistency and his decision making in the final third remained an issue, with more often than not Ronaldo opting for the for the fancy step overs instead of a pass. The trickery was fascinating to watch, but it had to be at the right times in games not just for the sake of it. The clubs struggle on the field too probably didn’t help Ronaldo, as United fell short of Mourinho’s Chelsea side in 2005 and 2006. It wouldn’t be till the summer of 2006 where the real transition of Ronaldo would take place.
His incident with then team mate Wayne Rooney during the World Cup of 2006 will live long in the memory for really all the wrong reasons really. Ronaldo seemed to play a key role in Wayne Rooney getting sent off. This was arguably one of the most crucial moments in his career. The abuse aimed at the Portuguese star was shades if not just as intense as David Beckham back at the 1998 World Cup after getting sent off vs Argentina. Would he stay and prove the doubters wrong at Old Trafford or should he take the cowardly option out and leave the club to seek a move abroad, fortunately for Ronaldo he stayed and well, the rest is history.
The following season we witnessed the complete transition of Cristiano Ronaldo, the waiting was over. The season 2006/07 was the season Ronaldo established himself as one of the worlds best. After starting emphatically against Fulham at Old Trafford he didn’t look back. No defender in the land or Europe could handle him. If I had to pick one moment which defined him that season, it would be his sensational solo goal vs Fulham which all but clinched the Premier League for Manchester United. Everything he touched turned to gold, opposition defenders just couldn’t handle him. He ended the campaign scoring a total of 23 goals, his personal best so far.
If the season 2006/07 was the stuff dreams are made of, then the 2007/08 campaign would be something out of this world. Ronaldo reigned supreme, scoring in all a whopping total of 42 goals in all competitions helping Manchester United win the Premier League and the UEFA Champions League. It was like something I had never witnessed before, almost like we had our very own Hollywood superstar at the club, he became more than just a football player, As Viva Ronaldo echoed around Old Trafford it became a privilege to go Old Trafford each week. This isn’t to say the others players played there role, as without any doubt United had one, if not the strongest squad in Europe that season, but Ronaldo was that special one, the one you would just pay to watch him play by himself.
Its hard to narrow down particular moments throughout the campaign as there are so many to choose from, but if I had to pick just one it would have to be that stunning free kick against Portsmouth at Old Trafford. The game itself may not go down as one of the most memorable games at Old Trafford but his free kick almost certainly will. After placing the ball down and seemingly just about close to enough to have an attempt on goal, what was to come next I doubt many would have expected coming. Ronaldo managed to emphatically provide not just power but a particular on the ball as it flew into the top right hand corner, almost perfectly. It wasn’t just a contender for goal of the season, it was a contender for goal of the century.
After having a slow start the following campaign it was much again the same from Ronaldo and Manchester United as they led the way to another Premier League. From April onwards Ronaldo took it upon himself to almost single handed win United games on his own. Much similar to the previous seasons when the big games came Ronaldo didn’t disappoint. From moments such as his stunning 40 yard long range goal vs Porto in the 2nd leg of the Champions League quarter finals, to his superb display against Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford helping United score 5 goals in one entire half ,It was only a crying shame that it ended with a defeat to Barcelona in the Champions league Final, this was to be the last time we witnessed Ronaldo in a Manchester United shirt.
It was almost inevitable Real Madrid would come calling for Ronaldo when finally news came through on June 11th 2009, that the club had accepted a world record fee of £80 Million pounds for the Portuguese star.
It marked the end of an era, a love affair if you like between the United faithful and Ronaldo who had taken him in like one of our own, yes have may have left nearly 7 years ago but the memories remain as ever present in the hearts of Manchester United fans.