Former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger recalls the time Arsenal nearly signed Cristiano Ronaldo, conceding that he regrets not prizing the Emirates with what would have become one of the world’s deadliest strike-forces rewriting the club’s history forever.
Speaking to FourFourTwo magazine, Wenger detailed how close a deal was from materialising in 2003 for the future five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s signature.
Wenger added, reaffirming that he still regrets having not partnered Ronaldo with Thierry Henry, who was formally recognised as the 2003 Ballon d’Or runner up.
He said: “When I had Thierry, I could have signed [Cristiano] Ronaldo – can you imagine what they could have done together?
“That makes you sweat a little bit, and I was very close to doing it. I thought it was all done.”
The 36-year-old striker, who has been linked with a move to Manchester City this summer could have rewritten the north London side’s history had it not been for Sir Alex Ferguson’s four-dimensional planning.
Manchester United had kept their cards close to their chest and were already in the process of agreeing to an informal alliance with Sporting Lisbon which would see the red devils given first refusal on any departing player from the Portuguese club’s academy, all while Wenger was under the illusion a deal was edging closer.
Ferguson and his entourage then tactfully arranged a pre-season friendly versus Sporting to open the club’s new stadium which was built to host various European championship fixtures the following summer.
Ronaldo featured in the pre-season clash in what would go down as one of football’s greatest ever auditions leaving the United squad stunned, crawling to seal Ronaldo’s services.
Ferguson described in his book, My Autobiography, that he demanded that United sign Ronaldo before they leave the stadium
He recalled himself saying to his kit man, Albert Morgan: “Get up to that directors’ box and get [United chief executive] Peter Kenyon down at half-time.’
Ferguson then wrote saying: “I told Peter, ‘We’re not leaving this ground until we’ve got that boy signed.’
“Peter asked: ‘Is he that good?’
“‘John O’Shea has ended up with a migraine!’ I said. ‘Get him signed.'”
Ronaldo soon signed for the Red Devils just days later, snatching him from the hands of Premier League rivals, Arsenal, who had previously given the forward a tour of the club’s training ground earlier in the year.
The Juventus forward would go on to confirm in 2019 in a TV interview with Pier Morgan on ITV just how close a move to Arsenal was.
“It is true. Of course it is true,” Ronaldo said. “Very close. One step. Seriously.”
But, Arsenal were too late and underestimated the degree of determination at Old Trafford to sign the wonderkid in what could have redefined the Gunners as we know today.
Arsenal went unbeaten to win the Premier League during Ronaldo’s first year at Old Trafford. If the Portuguese sensation was alongside Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp for the years to come, they may have held off the re-emergence of United and the rise of a Roman Abramovich-driven Chelsea to dominate the Premier League during the late 2000s.
Source by Football London