Just 24 hours later he was being described as “one of the most exciting young players I’ve ever seen” by Sir Alex Ferguson in a press release announcing his transfer. A Day later he was appearing alongside Kleberson at a media conference to introduce United’s forth and fifth signing of the summer. Three days after he was making his debut, tearing Bolton’s defence apart and hearing his name sung by the Stretford End.
He was a hit with the supporters before even kicking a ball. As he stepped from the bench in the 59th minute of the first home game of the season Old Trafford rose to greet him. It was quite a welcome for a player that the majority of fans hadn’t seen play before. But maybe they sensed what was coming?
Having been dumped on his backside inside a minute of his debut he jumped to his feet and set about Bolton. A game that appeared to be drifting along at 1-0 had suddenly burst into life.
Displaying a dazzling array of step-overs and feints he dribbled past Kevin Nolan and Nicky Hunt, creating chances and winning a penalty within minutes of his introduction.
He then switched to the right wing and proved that he really is ‘equal-footed’, tormenting the other side of Bolton’s defence. The fans loved it, chanting “You’ve only come to see Ronaldo” in the direction of the away end.
At the final whistle he was congratulated by his new teammates and shook hands with fans as he left the pitch. As debuts go it had been one of the more impressive and there was no doubting who would be taking the plaudits in the Sunday papers. Especially after Sir Alex told journalists, “I think the fans have got a new hero to talk about tonight.”
A few days before the Bolton game, on Wednesday 13 August, Cristiano Ronaldo became United’s fourth signing of the summer (he’d have been fifth but for the fact he beat Kleberson in putting pen to paper because the Brazilian needed a hearing to obtain a work permit). The press release announcing the deal is sent out, and united are granted the first exclusive interview with the teenager.
Leaving Old Trafford at the same time as Ronaldo I witness his first encounter with United fans. With his agent and interpreter he follows the club photographer John Peters across the forecourt and Sir Matt Busby Way into the car park. He’s surrounded by supporters hoping for an autograph. Some hang back tentatively, not quite sure who the tall youngster is, others though have read their morning papers and recognise him as the man dubbed the ‘New Ronaldo’. He happily signs shirts as he heads towards John’s car. Meanwhile, a television crew snatches a soundbite from his agent Luis Correia.
“Cristiano is delighted to have joined Manchester United,” he tells Sky Sports News, “the biggest club in the world.”
Moments later Cristiano starts the 10-minute journey to the training ground, driving through Trafford Park, joining the M60 motorway and then pulling off towards Carrington.
Once inside the Trafford Training Centre he is taken up to see the manager in his office and we wait for him to complete his first few tasks as a Manchester United player. He’s introduced to his new teammates, has something to eat in the staff canteen and is taken to be measured up for his kit in the changing room area. An hour later, he joins us in the pressroom.
“When a club of the stature of Manchester United come in for you and want to sign you, you don’t think twice,” says Ronaldo through his interpreter.