Cristiano Ronaldo once uttered a sentence which left Liverpool fans in feverish anticipation.
“Liverpool are one of the best clubs in England and it would be a dream for any player to represent a club of such traditions. I will have to hope they make an offer that is good for both Sporting and myself.”
But Ronaldo ended up joining Manchester United. And the rest is history…Getty Images – Getty
We all know how close Arsenal were to signing Ronaldo but it seems Liverpool also had a march on Manchester United to sign a player who became football’s top scoring player of all time and one it’s greatest.
Ronaldo became the world’s most expensive teenager when he joined United in August 2003 for £12.24million as Sir Alex Ferguson frantically did a deal for the then 18-year-old wonderkid following a spectacular performance for Sporting Lisbon in a pre-season clash against his side.
But before all that happened, Liverpool were in with a chance to sign Portugal’s rising star for less than a third of the price Man United paid.
Gerard Houllier was Liverpool’s manager at the time and he sent assistant and former player Phil Thompson to watch the player and have a word with his representatives.
Thompson was Houllier’s assistant at Anfield from 1998-2004Getty Images – Getty
However, Thompson and the club were put off by Ronaldo’s salary demands, fearing how it would impact the club’s wage structure along with the hopes for promising French duo Anthony Le Tallec and Florent Sinama-Pongolle who had just arrived from Le Havre.
This hesitation proved costly as Ronaldo signed for Liverpool’s biggest rivals just a week later.
Thompson told the Athletic: “He was being touted around everyone.
“Tony Henry, the former Man City midfielder, was working for [agent] Paul Stretford, who was tasked by Jorge Mendes to drum up interest in England.
“They were desperate to get Ronaldo out of Sporting and invited me over for a game. I was told the fee was £4m but they explained that it could be paid over the course of a four-year contract so essentially it was £1m per year.
“I asked what kind of salary he would want and they said it was £1m per year after tax. That was a lot for an 18-year-old kid but they said that was negotiable.
“It was a Sunday and I explained to them that I needed to go back to Liverpool and speak to Gerard Houllier and see what we could do. I fed all the information back to Gerard, who said he would speak to [chief executive] Rick Parry.
“Lo and behold, the following week I’m at Melwood when the yellow ticker on Sky Sports News says, ‘Manchester United sign Cristiano Ronaldo from Sporting for £12.2m.’ I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Fergie swiped Ronaldo from Liverpool’s grasp, which helped United become a dominant force for three yearsAFP – Getty
“How had the fee gone up from £4m to £12.2m in a few days? Gerard asked me to phone Tony to find out what had gone on. Tony told me that when he’d got off the plane on the Monday he had got a call to say he was off the deal. It was down to Stretford and Mendes instead.
“It was astonishing that the fee trebled. He was clearly a big talent but no one could have predicted back then how great he was going to be.”
So in an instant the chance to sign the player everyone had their eye on was gone – but also gone was the risk of causing a dressing room divide.
However, hindsight shows Liverpool’s unwillingness to take that chance was a big mistake. Ronaldo became a Man United legend, winning three Premier League titles, a Champions League, an FA Cup and two League Cups.
Perhaps Ronaldo could have been doing this in Liverpool Red instead of Man United had the former taken a chance
Ronaldo has won five Ballon d’Ors and probably would’ve won more if he wasn’t playing at the same time as Lionel Messigetty images
He got even better after joining Real Madrid for a then world-record £80m in 2009 adding to his league title and Champions League collections as well as winning countless individual accolades, including four more Ballon d’Or awards (he won his first won in 2008 as a Man United player).
He joined Juventus for £99.2m in 2018 and has gone from strength to strength and recently cemented his place at the top of football’s goal charts by scoring the 760th of his career.
Ronaldo is regarded by many one of football’s greatest ever players as he shares an extremely high-standard rivalry with Barcelona legend Lionel Messi.
And in case you were wondering, Sinama Pongolle scored nine goals in five years as a Liverpool player. Le Tallec was on their books for seven years and scored just once.
Ronaldo has continued his goal streak at Juventus and now has 760 to his nameGetty Images – Getty
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