Cristiano Ronaldo Had His Arsenal Shirt And Number Agreed Before Transfer
Cristiano Ronaldo had a meeting with Arsene Wenger where his Arsenal shirt number was agreed, before a dramatic late twist.
Rather than wearing Manchester United's No 7, it was almost 'Ronaldo 28' at Arsenal. That's the story in The Athletic's feature on the teenager's 2003 move to England - where it's revealed he was close to signing for either Arsenal or Liverpool, before United won the race.
Liverpool thought they had a £4 million deal agreed with Sporting for the Portuguese star, but Arsenal came even closer.
An £8 million fee was agreed and the player and his mother, Dolores, flew to London where they were introduced to Thierry Henry and other Arsenal stars. Wenger spoke to Ronaldo in his office and even promised him the shirt number he wanted at Arsenal: 28.
According to The Athletic's source: "It was as close to being done, without actually being done, as it possibly could be."
The reason Ronaldo to Arsenal - or Liverpool - never got over the line was in large part due to his agent, Jorge Mendes. Man United were willing to make Ronaldo the most expensive teenager in football history at that time with a £12.4 million fee.
But as importantly, Sir Alex Ferguson convinced the player and Mendes that United was the perfect club for him to progress. "We will look after him," Fergie apparently assured them, pointing to his track record of bringing through the likes of Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Paul Scholes.
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Wenger would call the failure to sign Ronaldo despite his best efforts "my biggest regret". The Athletic also reports that Wenger was so angry with Mendes than he stopped dealing with him, never signing one of the agent's players again.
This take on Ronaldo's move is a twist on the famous story that United only decided to sign Cristiano after he dazzled in a pre-season friendly for Sporting - with Rio Ferdinand and his teammates begging their manager to sign the skinny 18-year-old who'd given them nightmares.
That happened, but all it did was hurry the club's desire to get the transfer over the line. Chief executive Peter Kenyon stayed on in Lisbon to get the deal signed, while Ferguson now wanted Ronaldo to come to United in time for the new season, not stay on loan at Sporting for a year as was the original plan.
When the deal was announced, it caused shock and confusion at Liverpool and undoubtedly Arsenal as well. It meant that Wenger could add CR7 to the lengthy list of players that the great man claims to have almost signed for Arsenal, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lionel Messi.
However it's hard to believe that any move could have worked out better for Ronaldo than the one which took him to Old Trafford. He went from promising showpony to world-class talent at the club, winning three Premier League titles, a Champions League and his first Ballon d'Or before signing for Real Madrid for £80 million in 2009.
So a perfect transfer for Fergie, United and Ronaldo. But definitely not for Liverpool, Arsenal or Wenger - who came so close to having 'Ronaldo 28' playing alongside 'Henry 14' in attack.
All imagery: PA Images
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