‘He was absolutely bloody fantastic!’: Sir Alex Ferguson recalls how Cristiano Ronaldo’s dazzling Man United debut in 2003 gave him ‘a big problem’ as fans demanded the teenage prodigy start the next game
- Cristiano Ronaldo announced himself with stunning cameo against Bolton
- Old Trafford crowd were wowed as 18-year-old showed off his abilities
- But Sir Alex Ferguson has recalled Ronaldo presented him with a dilemma
- The fans wanted the Portuguese prodigy to start in next game at Newcastle
- In the end, Fergie stuck to his instinct and named Ronaldo among the subs
Sir Alex Ferguson has recalled how Cristiano Ronaldo’s dazzling debut for Manchester United gave him an almighty dilemma ahead of their next game.
The Portuguese star was only 18 when he announced himself in English football with a 30-minute cameo off the bench against Bolton Wanderers in August 2003.
Ronaldo, just signed from Sporting Lisbon, had the Old Trafford crowd spellbound as he tore the Bolton defence apart and left the pitch to a standing ovation.
Cristiano Ronaldo tore Bolton to shreds during a dazzling Manchester United debut in 2003
Sir Alex Ferguson brought the 18-year-old on for Nicky Butt with half-an-hour left in the game
But legendary United boss Ferguson has admitted Ronaldo’s performance caught him out and he knew there would be a clamour to start him in the next match.
‘I always remember, that when we had the discussion [about Ronaldo signing], I think the thing I wanted to impress on his agent, in particular, [was that] he won’t play every game,’ Ferguson told United’s The Inside View.
‘But if he’s so good, I can’t stop him. You always play your best players.
‘The opening game of the season, he was substitute. He came on and he was absolutely bloody fantastic! The crowd was magnificent, the crowd loved it.
‘So here we had a situation: Do I play him the next game or do I put him back on the bench? That was a big problem, that, you know.’
Ronaldo takes the acclaim of the crowd at the final whistle after impressing on his debut
Sir Alex Ferguson welcomes Ronaldo and Brazilian midfielder Kleberson to the club in 2003
United moved quickly to beat rivals Arsenal and Liverpool to Ronaldo’s signature after he impressed playing against them for Sporting Lisbon in a pre-season friendly
Winning 1-0 when Ronaldo came on against Bolton, United would go on to win 4-0 with Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Ruud van Nistelrooy scoring late on.
But Ferguson didn’t bow to pressure and named Ronaldo among the substitutes again for United’s next game, a 2-1 win at Newcastle United.
The teenager did come on for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with 13 minutes left at St James’ Park but his first United start wasn’t until August 27 and a 1-0 home win over Wolves.
Ronaldo, who returned to United for a second spell at the beginning of this season, was sat alongside Ferguson for the interview and recalled how he settled in at Old Trafford.
Ronaldo and Ferguson are seen having an in-depth conversation for the club’s media
‘Everything that he said to me, he did,’ said Ronaldo.
‘And it’s difficult. Imagine at 18, you arrive from Sporting, you play with the stars – with Giggsy, Scholes, Roy Keane, Solskjaer – I was a little bit nervous. But he helped me a lot by the communication.
‘He would call me to his office with the translator there. The most important thing was he told me things that helped me to grow up as a person, and as a player. And since day one, everything that he told me, he did. So I appreciated it a lot.
‘I’m always saying it, but he was like a father figure to me in football. I appreciate everything he did for me, my family and especially for the club. He did an amazing job.’
Ferguson acted like a mentor and father figure when he brought Ronaldo to United in 2003
Ronaldo won’t be in action this weekend with the home game against Brighton postponed after Covid swept through the United camp, leaving them with only seven available players.
It followed the postponement of Tuesday’s trip to Brentford.
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