Cristiano Ronaldo was 18 years old when the 2003/2004 season was about to start. At that time, he had already accumulated 1,069 minutes in the Portuguese League, with 3 goals scored, and had made his debut in the Champions League against Inter, with 32 minutes played.
By the time 6 August 2003 came around, Portugal was experiencing a special moment. Football was changing, with major clubs building new stadiums for the following year’s European Championship.
The Jose Alvalade was the first stadium to be unveiled, although the European Championship was not scheduled to take place there.
Manchester United were invited to the celebration and the young Sporting and Portuguese football star knew he would start the match thanks to his coach Fernando Santos (both would go on to win the European Championship with Portugal 13 years later).
But that very night marked a turning point in Cristiano’s life, and it was later revealed only many years later in the Cristiano documentary produced by Jorge Mendes.
He spent part of the night with Alex Ferguson at the Penha Longa Hotel in Sintra. At the time, half of Europe, including Barcelona, were tracking this footballing diamond.
Mendes was instrumental in giving Cristiano the best option, guaranteeing the United manager would play him in at least 50 per cent of the Premier League games.
With this guarantee, Mendes made the decision that Cristiano would play for United that season, even though the player was still unaware of it.
That night, Cristiano Ronaldo went from being an unknown to a footballing figure as he swept aside United’s stars. With his irreverence, he dribbled past everyone and made extraordinary moves.
At the end of the game, Manchester United’s Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand approached Ferguson asking him to sign the player.
But the truth is that a deal was already in place. Ferguson smiled, knowing that in a few days Cristiano Ronaldo would be wearing a United shirt.
On his Premier League debut, Cristiano was impressive and left all the fans delighted.
At a time when David Beckham‘s departure to Real Madrid was causing widespread heartache, Cristiano was quick to ensure that the departure was quickly forgotten.
Moreover, it was Ferguson‘s decision that Cristiano should wear the number 7 shirt, the same one that had been worn by the club’s stars.
Life changed that day for Cristiano, and football was destined for a change of its own.
Shortly afterwards, Portugal opened the Do Dragao stadium in Porto, which marked a milestone.
With Mourinho as the club’s coach, Lionel Messi made his first-team debut for Barcelona under Frank Rijkaard.
Both Cristiano and Messi would dominate and shape the football world for two decades.