Cristiano Ronaldo joined Manchester United after impressing in a 2003 friendly against them for Sporting Lisbon and ex-Red Devils defender Mikael Silvestre has recalled Gary Neville urging Sir Alex Ferguson in the dressing room to sign him.
Ronaldo, who stakes a claim to being the greatest player in the history of the game, produced a sublime display for Sporting in a 3-1 friendly win over United.
Ferguson was so impressed that he agreed to pay £12m to sign the Portuguese youngster after the game, having been badgered by his own players to bring him to Old Trafford.
It’s fair to say Ronaldo proved a bargain in the end; producing a return of 118 goals in 292 games before sealing a then-world-record £80m move to Real Madrid in 2009, where he would bag 450 goals in 438 appearances and cement a legacy as one of the greatest players ever.
And Silvestre, who spent nine years at Old Trafford, has revealed Neville was one of the first United stars to spot his talent in that famous 2003 friendly.
“The first time I came across [Ronaldo] was in 2003 when we played a friendly at Sporting,” he told FourFourTwo.
“In the team talk beforehand, Ferguson mentioned a talented young lad to watch out for. He didn’t mention his name, but we all knew it afterwards!
Mikael Silvestre has revealed Gary Neville came into the dressing room after that 2003 friendly and urged Ferguson to sign Ronaldo
“He was torturing poor John O’Shea on the left-wing, showing off his speed and changes of direction with the ball.
“We were like, ‘Hmm, it would be good if this guy would wear a United shirt instead…’
“After the match, Gary Neville came into the dressing room and said, “Sign this kid, gaffer.”
“Sir Alex just said, “We’ll see what we can do.”
“I can remember sitting on the team bus waiting to leave, and we were there for quite a bit longer than usual because Sir Alex was speaking to Cristiano and Sporting, convincing him to come to Old Trafford.”
Ronaldo inspired United to three Premier League titles, two League Cups, one FA Cup and the Champions League before joining Madrid.
He won another four Champions League winners’ medals at the Bernabeu, as well as two La Liga titles and as many Copa del Reys.
The full interview with Mikael Silvestre can be found in the new FourFourTwo magazine which is available to buy in shops and online from Tuesday, May 26.