Manchester United signed Cristiano Ronaldo for a second time this summer but the second move to Old Trafford mightn’t have ever happened had Liverpool got their way.
Indeed, the Reds thought that Ronaldo was on his way to Anfield all the way back in 2003, meaning a return to United would never have been possible 18 years later.
Liverpool thought they had completed a deal to sign future superstar Ronaldo for just £4million back in 2003 only for manager Gerard Houllier to almost choke on his dinner after seeing the Portuguese ace had joined old foes Manchester United instead.
Sir Alex Ferguson swooped to prise the Sporting CP starlet from Lisbon ahead of the likes of Barcelona, Juventus and Arsenal but he had competition even closer to home with the Reds, just 32 miles up the road, thinking that they’d landed one of the hottest teenagers on the planet for what now seems like a bargain price.
Houllier’s assistant, the former Liverpool captain Phil Thompson, dined out with football agent Tony Henry in the capital city of Portugal as he looked to strike a deal and recalls the conversation – as he has done on previous occassions such as in his autobiography.
He told The Athletic : “I can still remember Tony’s exact words. It was all very nice and relaxed.
“It’s £4 million and it can be paid over the four years of his contract, so £1 million a year.
“That seemed very reasonable. Then I asked about the salary and Tony told me it was £1 million a year, net.”
Despite having reservations over the 18-year-old Ronaldo’s salary demands, Liverpool, whose boss Houllier went to watch the player in the Toulon tournament, were still keen to get a deal over the line as they already knew he was a great talent and believed they had an agreement in place to sign him although personal terms had not been finalised.
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So to find out via television that their most bitter rivals had beaten them to the punch and gazumped their offer came as a terrible shock to Anfield’s management team.
Thompson said: “On the Tuesday morning, we were having lunch at the training ground and it came up on the yellow strap on Sky Sports, ‘Manchester United have signed Cristiano Ronaldo for £12.2 million.’
“Gerard and myself almost choked on our food. I can remember Gerard jumping up and saying, ‘What the hell has gone on there?’”.
A version of this story was first published in October 2020