It has been eight years to the day since Cristiano Ronaldo completed his world record transfer to Real Madrid from Manchester United, and, looking back, it is fair to say it was £80m well spent.
A precocious teenager with Sporting CP, Sir Alex Ferguson swooped for the highly-rated youngster in the summer of 2003. A friendly between United and Sporting in August of that year ended in a 3-1 win for the Portuguese side; Ronaldo grabbed two assists in a scintillating solo performance which inspired a tale that has become famous in the annals of football history.
Ferguson revealed his players convinced him to sign Ronaldo having been torn apart by the youngster, failing to contain their incredulity at just how good his performance had been as they left the field of play.
He said: “After we played Sporting last week the lads in the dressing room talked about him constantly, and on the plane back from the game they urged me to sign him – that’s how highly they rated him.”
Five years later, Ronaldo had developed into a two-time PFA Player of the Year winner, also claiming the Ballon d’Or, the FIFA World Player of the Year and the FIFPro World Player of the Year awards.
It was that summer, half a decade after joining United, Ronaldo looked likely to join Real.
Their interest first came to light in early 2007, when it was revealed by a former Sporting youth coach that Real had turned down the chance to sign Ronaldo before the Red Devils came calling. Both Ronaldo and the club made it clear he would not be leaving in the summer of 2007, but Real’s interest was ramped up over the following campaign when he started to truly establish himself as world class.
In the summer of 2008, Real chiefs confirmed they would be willing to pay £100m for Ronaldo, and the player himself even started to hint a transfer to the Bernabeu may be on the cards.
He said in May: “I have said a thousand times that I have one dream – to play in Spain. Sometimes your dreams don’t come true but I dream, I still dream, and I am happy at Manchester United, but the future? Nobody knows.”
By June he openly admitted he wished to play for Real: “I would like to play for Real Madrid but only if it is true they are ready to pay what Manchester United ask of them. However, it does not depend on me.”
United made it clear they had no desire to sell the attacker, despite Ronaldo’s wishes to go, and even then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter had his say on the transfer, suggesting Ferguson should let Ronaldo leave as keeping him equated to ‘modern slavery’.
Two days later, Ronaldo openly agreed with Blatter’s comments.
Despite the relationship between Ronaldo and United seemingly fractured beyond repair, when Real signed Rafael van der Vaart and gave up on Ronaldo he stated he had no problem remaining at Old Trafford and would continue to give his ‘heart and soul’ to the club.
Despite his performances remaining superb, it was clear Ronaldo’s heart and soul were already in Madrid.
By December there were reports Ronaldo had already signed for Real, but the deal couldn’t be announced for contractual reasons, and when Florentino Perez was named club President in June it became clear a deal would go through that summer.
United accepted an £80m offer on June 11, 15 days later the world record deal was finalised, and on July 6 he was presented to 80,000 adoring fans in Madrid.
It was a world record fee at the time, but Ronaldo has more than paid back the money paid for him.
He has scored 406 goals in 394 games for Real, winning two LaLiga titles, two Copas, three Champions Leagues, one Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup twice.
Is Ronaldo the best value for money signing in the history of the sport? Maybe.
But what can’t be questioned is just how successful he has been for Real Madrid.