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How much did it cost Manchester United to buy Cristiano Ronaldo from Sporting? Transfer deal explained

15:06 BST 17/05/2020
Nicky Butt Manchester United Cristiano Ronaldo Sporting 2003
Goal takes a look back on the move that began a Portuguese teenager's climb to the top of world football

Cristiano Ronaldo is undoubtedly one of the best footballers of all time and it is no surprise that the likes of Real Madrid and Juventus were willing to pay astronomical transfer fees for his services.

Spanish giants Real forked out what was then a world record €94 million (£80m/$96m) to prise the Portugal star away from Manchester United back in 2009. Juventus, meanwhile, were happy to pay €100 million (£88m/$117m) for his services nearly 10 years later in 2018, despite the fact that he was heading towards his mid-thirties - usually the beginning of the end for any footballer.

Those fees reflect the iconic, Ballon d'Or-winning superstar he became first at Old Trafford and then with Real Madrid, but how much did he cost when he first made the move to the Premier League?

How much did Man Utd pay Sporting for Ronaldo?

Manchester United paid £12 million ($19m) for Cristiano Ronaldo in August 2003, when he was aged just 18. The fee, while seemingly insignificant in comparison to today's sums, actually made him the most expensive teenage footballer in English football at the time.

By comparison, Chelsea signed 21-year-old Joe Cole from West Ham for just under £7 million the same summer, while Tottenham paid just over £8 million for UEFA Cup-winning Porto youngster Helder Postiga.

Indeed, the fee paid for Ronaldo was similar in scale to that which Chelsea paid the Red Devils for the much more established Juan Sebastian Veron - £15 million - just a week beforehand.

To put it into greater context, the following summer Manchester United paid Everton more than twice what they paid for Ronaldo in order to sign Wayne Rooney (£30 million).

How did Ronaldo's transfer to Man Utd happen?

The story goes that Manchester United signed Ronaldo from Sporting after he tormented John O'Shea in a pre-season friendly between the clubs in Portugal during the summer of 2003.

"We always joked with 'Sheasy' that he'd sealed the deal by playing like a f*ckin' clown against him," Roy Keane quipped in his autobiography The Second Half.

However, it is not strictly true that Ronaldo was signed on the back of that performance alone, since negotiations with the Portuguese club had been happening for a number of months regarding a potential transfer.

Nevertheless, it did not hurt and appears to have accelerated the process, strengthening the resolve of Sir Alex Ferguson to get the deal done, particularly after he had lost out in the pursuit of Ronaldinho.

"After we played Sporting last week, the lads in the dressing room talked about him constantly," Ferguson revealed to the official Manchester United website after the transfer was concluded. "And on the plane back from the game they urged me to sign him. That's how highly they rated him. He is one of the most exciting young players I've ever seen."

Could Ronaldo have joined a different club?

It is true that Ronaldo could well have ended up at a different Premier League club than Manchester United in 2003 and he might not have gone to England at all.

Manchester United had to pay what they did for Ronaldo to fend off interest from a host of over clubs, including Arsenal, Chelsea, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Inter. Indeed, he was very close to signing for United's arch-rivals Arsenal, having met with Arsene Wenger on a visit to North London.

Looking back on the sliding doors moment in a 2019 interview with Piers Morgan on ITV, Ronaldo explained he was "one step away" from joining the Gunners.

“I want to apologise. Forgive me for not joining Arsenal," Ronaldo said to Morgan. “It didn’t happen, but Arsenal, I appreciate what they did for me, especially Arsene Wenger, but football you never know where you are going to play, life is like that."

Wenger revealed that one of his biggest regrets as a manager was not managing to get the Ronaldo deal over the line, though acknowledged that their bid of £4.5 million could not compete with what United offered.

“You could imagine at the time what it would have been like to have Thierry Henry and Ronaldo together," pondered Wenger in an interview with the Gunners' official website. "That would certainly have changed a little bit the history of my stay here as well."