Arsene Wenger considers missing out on Cristiano Ronaldo to be one of his biggest regrets, with the former Arsenal boss revealing that the Portuguese superstar had a Gunners shirt in his hands before Manchester United swept in.
Back in the summer of 2003, Ronaldo had his obvious potential noted by teams across Europe. Arsenal formed part of the clamour for his signature, with an agreement reached with Sporting that would see the winger head to north London.
Wenger, who claims to having come close to pulling off a number of notable deals across his 22-year reign with the Gunners, was convinced that Ronaldo would be joining his ranks.
The history of modern football could have been very different had that deal gone through, but those at Emirates Stadium were left empty-handed as old adversaries United made a late move and lured the future five-time Ballon d’Or winner to Old Trafford.
Asked by The Guardian to pick out his most painful recruitment regret, Wenger said: “Oof! I would say there is not one player, there are 50!
“On the other hand, maybe the closest [to that] was Cristiano Ronaldo, when he signed for Man United.
“We had an agreement with Sporting and Man United took Carlos Queiroz as assistant coach, and they just outbid us quickly and took Ronaldo, but we had an agreement basically. He had the shirt of Arsenal, I had lunch with him and his mother at the training ground!
“It’s one example but there were so many. The history of a big club is full of missed great players!”
Wenger has also revealed in the past that he came close to acquiring the likes of Yaya Toure and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Lionel Messi was another to slip his net, with Arsenal exploring the option of landing the Argentine when prising Cesc Fabregas away from Barcelona in 2003.
Wenger told the Gunners’ official website in 2018: “The story of Cesc Fabregas is that Franny Cagiago and Steve Rowley brought the player here and we had to convince him.
“I met Cesc’s parents and at the time we were interested in Messi and [Gerard] Pique as well. We tried for the three but of course it didn’t work out, but we got a gem there in Cesc and he is an exceptional player. A brain for football.
“[It didn’t work out with Messi and Pique] because of the agents. I think it was linked with Nike at the time and they wanted Pique to go to Man United.
“With Messi, Barcelona didn’t want to lose him of course and they made [the offer] that was needed to keep the player at the club. I don’t really know if Messi was interested, I couldn’t get close to try to force the deal because Barcelona stopped that possibility very early.”