Friday, November 24, 2006
At that point, only the Sporting youth coaches were aware of his capabilities, but the player announced his arrival on the senior stage spectacularly (in much the same way as he did for United against Bolton a year later, striking twice in a 3-0 defeat of Moreirense“One of those goals was the best one he has scored,” De Freitas recalls. Young Ronaldo terrorising defenders“From midfield, he took the ball past three players and slotted it away. His mother watching in the stands and she almost fainted!”Former Sporting coach Laszlo Boloni used the prodigy sparingly for the rest of the 2002/03 campaign, restricting him largely to a substitute role and allowing him only a further 10 full appearances.
Despite the limited opportunities, Cristiano made a big impression and work of his special ability spread beyond the Alcochete.With uncanny things, Manchester United signed a ‘development partnership with Sporting in May 2003, the month before the Portuguese campaign finished. And by another happy coincidence, one of the club’s most illustrious former coaches, Carlo Queoroz, was in his first spell as Sir Alex’s right-hand man.Queiroz would have had the chapter and verse on the player and Ferguson was poised for a transfer coup. Three months later, Sporting faced United in the friendly to celebrate the inauguration of the new Alvalade stadium and the gaffer had a chance to see the player for himself. Cristiano seized the moment, conjuring one of his virtuoso displays in a 3-1 triumph.De Freitas witnessed what proved to be the player’s last performance for Sporting from a seat by the tunnel: “I was in the stand and he was coming out at half-time. I Shouted “Cristiano’ when he passed below me. He looked up, grinned and gave me a big thumbs-up.
A few days later, he was at United.”Only Cristiano was prepared for the speed at which the £12.2m deal went through and the attention it generated. “When the rumors that he was going to Manchester started we didn’t know if they were true,” Katia says. “Then everything happened very quickly and the common kicked off in a big way during his first week in Manchester. He was on the front pages of the newspapers, on the TV. It was mad.We couldn’t believe it, but Cristiano was calm because practically all his life people have talked about him.”Everyone who is qualified to comment agrees that United is the ideal club for Ronaldo.
The plan was for him to stay at Sporting for another season and then move to a big side. A raft of his peers who ventured outside Portugal – Quaresma and Simao (Barcelona), Heldr Postiga (Tottenham), Hugo spells abroad, yet Cristiano is settled in Manchester.Ronaldo signs for UnitedAgostinho, the deputy editor of the local newspaper, cites a trip to England he made at the end of last season as an example of why Cristiano is in good hands at Old Trafford. He was due to meet the player at the O Farol restaurant in London to raise funds for children in Madeira, but United had just drawn 1-1 at home against Chelsea in the penultimate match of the season.
The result meant the club missed out on second position in the league and were forced into the Champions League qualifying rounds. Sir Alex Ferguson called off all pre-arranged Media engagements so the players would focus on the FA Cup Final.“It was a disappointment for me, but probably the best for him,” Agostinho said. “Ferguson seems to be a disciplinarian and very demanding, but the policy works well. If Cristiano had gone to any other club he would be back in Portugal by now. United are a model side in terms of organization.”De Freitas agrees that United have provided Cristiano with the perfect platform to fulfill his promise: “Sporting couldn’t refuse the kind of money offered last year, but United was the best club in the world he could have gone to. Real Madrid hardly give youth a chance and Barcelona take on young players but lack patience. The move has worked out well and United are not about to let Cristiano go anywhere now.
There isn’t a better young player than him in the world, not in South American, not anywhere. His ability is frightening and in the big games it looks like he’s enjoying himself rather than burdened by responsibility. He needs to score a few more goals, true, but the commentators in England will be jumping off their seats a lot more this season. Providing he continues to develop at the same rate, avoid injury and bad influences, he could be the best player in the world in three years time.”