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It Almost Happened: 18-Year-Old Cristiano Ronaldo Joins Arsenal

A young Cristiano Ronaldo shown training for Sporting Lisbon

Welcome to a new series of articles from Last Word on Football. Over the next few weeks, we will be looking at the transfers, sackings, appointments and more that almost happened in football, changing the game we all know and love.

Today, we look back at the time when a teenage Cristiano Ronaldo came within an inch of joining Arsenal.

It Almost Happened: Ronaldo Joins Arsenal

A Poor Kid’s Road to Stardom

Ronaldo started playing football as a child in the early 1990s, representing Andorinha, where his father was a kit man. He later joined Nacional before a three-day trial at Sporting Lisbon changed his life forever.

Read More: It Almost Happened: Diego Maradona Joins Sheffield United

Having joined Sporting’s academy at 14 years old, it took Ronaldo only three years to break into the senior squad. As a teenage winger, he made a total of 31 appearances for Sporting, registering five goals and six assists.

Sir Alex Ferguson got his first glimpse of Ronaldo’s magic in a friendly match between Manchester United and Sporting on August 6, 2003. The future superstar’s performance was so impressive that it convinced the Red Devils to sign him on a £12.24 million deal soon after. However, Fergie was not the first Premier League manager to discover Ronaldo’s talent.

How Did Arsenal Miss Out on Ronaldo Signing?

Ronaldo has confirmed he had a meeting with then-Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and nearly joined the Gunners before his move to Manchester United.

Speaking to GQ magazine in 2010, he said (via FourFourTwo): “It’s true. I was an inch away from signing for Arsenal.

“I saw Arsene Wenger three times with my mother. It was very close to being a done deal. After I signed for United, she and I were sitting watching a Premier League game on television, and she yelled out, ‘I know that guy – I liked him.’”

Read MoreIt Almost Happened: Diego Maradona Signs for Sunderland

The meeting between Ronaldo and Wenger is estimated to have happened in 2003, a few months before Sir Alex Ferguson signed the Portuguese star for United. However, the Gunners had him on their radar for almost three years at that point, according to former scout Damien Comolli.

In an interview with SFT Sport 1 in 2016, Comolli claimed he first saw Ronaldo at the Montaigu tournament and was immediately convinced that he was a “phenomenon”.

“I had never seen anything like it since Thierry Henry,” the former scout said (via Daily Mail).

“He twice visited Arsenal’s training centre. Nobody even knows about that. But when the time had come to complete the transfer, there was no money.”

Ronaldo’s move to Arsenal didn’t materialize, only for him to rise into superstardom at Old Trafford. At the time, however, it shouldn’t have felt like a big miss for the Gunners, whose “invincible” side wrote history in the Premier League a year later.


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