Legendary Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson appeared to know he had a special player on his hands right from the off after signing Ronaldo from Sporting Lisbon in 2003
His return to Old Trafford comes an incredible 18 years after Ferguson brought him to United, with the Red Devils paying £12.2million to make him the most expensive teenager in English football history at the time.
Now 36, Ronaldo returns to his spiritual home as football’s greatest ever goalscorer, a five-time Ballon d’Or winner and in many people’s eyes the best player of all time.
But he admitted that, as a wiry 18-year-old winger, he assumed he would be staying at Sporting Lisbon on loan for another campaign after United signed him in 2003.
“I was very nervous,” he said in an interview with former team-mate Wes Brown on the Old Trafford pitch on Thursday.
“I did not expect to play because when I signed for United I thought I would be back in Portugal for one more year.
“But Sir Alex Ferguson said ‘no, no, you’re going to be in the squad for the game.’”
The fact that Ferguson was ready to throw Ronaldo straight into his first-team squad showed how much he valued the young winger right from the off.
Another indication was the teenager being given the iconic number seven shirt, which had been worn by such club legends as David Beckham, Eric Cantona, Bryan Robson and George Best.
Ronaldo’s United bow in a 4-0 win over Bolton was hailed by Best himself as “undoubtedly the most exciting debut” he had ever seen.
And he and Ferguson were emphatically proved right in their early assessments of the youngster’s potential – with Ronaldo going on to become a world-class forward and helping United to three consecutive Premier League titles, a Champions League triumph and the Club World Cup.
Even more trophies and accolades were to come, of course, after Ronaldo joined Real Madrid in a then world-record £80m transfer in 2009.
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But the Portugal star admitted that back in 2003 he didn’t even believe he would come off the bench for what was to be his debut in the Old Trafford clash against the Trotters.
“I was super nervous,” he said. “I called my friends and everyone, I really did not expect to come on in the game so I was so nervous.”
Despite everything he has achieved in the game, he insists he will still feel the nerves before his second debut – but this time around he won’t be happy with a place on the bench.
“Of course, I will be nervous on Saturday. But I am more mature, I am experienced, I will be prepared,” he said, adding with a chuckle: “I am going to pressure Ole to start in the XI.”