Coming off the back of a tough transitional period in their history, United needed something desperately in order to change the course of their sinking ship for the seasons ahead.
For this, they chose to change tact completely, beginning with the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo, and his immediate integration into the starting line-up. Something which was slightly reminiscent of the times gone by with the Busby Babes and the early Ferguson eras, but was undoubtedly different and scary moving forward.
From around this time, the club relied on the attacking qualities of Ruud van Nistelrooy, while engaging in transfers that more suited their huge treble-winning image, rather than what was conducive to long-term growth. However, a fortuitous rendezvous to Sporting Lisbon before the 2003/04 season changed this forever.
Possibly the greatest recommendation of Carlos Queiroz‘ life as United’s Assistant Manager, or probably the best idea coming from any manager’s ‘right-hand’ in the history of the English Premier League.
Or maybe even the football world as a whole! It was a great decision … is my point!
Putting the Red Devils backline to the chopping board with his pace, trickery and bare-faced audacity to just do whatever he pleased as a fresh-faced teenager, the entire squad pleaded with their master to purchase Cristiano Ronaldo whatever the price before the season took place that year.
Especially with rumours suggesting that Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal were closing in on him instead.
Unperturbed by the challenge, the velvet-tongued Scotsman honed in on Ronaldo and offered him the opportunity of a lifetime once a record-breaking £12.8 million fee was organised with his employers. And that was to become the eventual focal point of Manchester United for the years to come, and spearhead their latest dynasty under him.
Of course, this could all have been smoking mirrors by this point and just a bunch of words tailored to flatter and deceived Cristiano Ronaldo to signing the deal under false pretence. But if giving him the coveted number 7 shirt wasn’t enough – recently vacated by David Beckham – then giving him his debut was an even greater indication.
It would be a game that would go down in the annuls of British Football History as one of the greatest inaugural displays of any Manchester United player. And one that not a single Old Trafford fan would forget anytime soon …
I can’t lie, I still watch it every now and again whenever I feel a bit down!
Coming on as a second half substitute, Cristiano Ronaldo wasted no time in helping his future home trudge to a routine win over Bolton Wanderers in the Premier League. A rapturous applause greeted his welcome as the Sky Sports camera panned over that beautiful ‘Ronaldo – 7’ names on the Vodafone-sponsored Red Devils kit.
My favourite United kit ever, btw – in case anyone’s looking at Christmas gifts for me!
From that moment on, Old Trafford became a stage tailor-made to the fancy antics of their latest recruits, and what I would have given to be an inclusion at the Theatre of Dreams on that day. It was a sign of what was to become of the Cristiano Ronaldo legend, and a cameo performance which whetted the appetite of every pure football fan who could somewhat comprehend what they were watching that day.
And after his equally sensation return to Manchester United was confirmed, it makes me personally nostalgic as a fan to re-watch this fixture and team it with what’s yet to come from the club legend that he is. I’m excited!