Manchester United signed Cristiano Ronaldo for the second time this summer, but the second switch to Old Trafford might never have happened if Liverpool had gotten their way.
The Reds actually believed Ronaldo was on his way to Anfield way back in 2003, meaning a return to United would never have been possible 18 years later.
Liverpool thought they had signed a deal to sign future superstar Ronaldo for just £ 4m back in 2003, only for manager Gerard Houllier to almost suffocate his dinner after seeing the Portuguese ace join the old enemies Manchester United instead.
Sir Alex Ferguson swooped to award the Sporting CP star from Lisbon ahead of Barcelona, Juventus and Arsenal, but he had competition even closer to home with the Reds, just 32 miles up the road, believing they had landed one of The hottest teens on the planet at what now seems like a reasonable price.
Houllier’s assistant, former Liverpool captain Phil Thompson, was eating out with football agent Tony Henry in the Portuguese capital when he appeared to make a deal and recalls the conversation – as he has done on previous occasions such as In his autobiography.
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He told The Athletic: “I 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.
“It seemed very reasonable. Then I asked about the salary and Tony told me it was £ 1 million a year net. ”
Despite having reservations about the 18-year-old Ronaldo’s salary claim, Liverpool, whose boss Houllier went to see the player in the Toulon tournament, were still eager to get a deal across the line as they already knew he was a great talent and thought they had an agreement in place to sign him even though personal terms had not been finalized.
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So to find out via television that their most bitter rivals had beaten them and stumbled upon their offer, it came as a terrible shock to Anfield’s management team.
Thompson said: “Tuesday morning we had lunch on 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 I were almost suffocated by our food. I remember Gerard jumping up and saying, ‘What the hell was going on there?’ “.
A version of this story was first published in October 2020