Friday, September 29, 2023

Ronaldinho was 48 hours from Manchester United transfer but snub saw Cristiano Ronaldo join

From that magical toe-poke at Stamford Bridge to his sublime free-kick at Fratton Park, Ronaldinho did bits in England… on occasion. But the Brazil legend, one of football’s great entertainers, never graced the Premier League – much to England’s regret and possibly goalkeeper David Seaman’s delight.

It was in 2003 that Barcelona landed the coveted Ronaldinho’s signature despite Man United’s attempts. Even Blackburn Rovers tried to bring the former Barcelona and Milan forward to these shores at one point. If you don’t buy a ticket, eh?

Back in 2003, though, there was an actual chance the South American superstar would sign for a Premier League club when Manchester United tried to buy him from Paris Saint-Germain. In fact, they were just 48 hours from landing a 23-year-old Ronaldinho, who had already earmarked himself as one of Europe’s most exciting players, lit up the 2002 World Cup, knocked England out, and manager Sir Alex Ferguson was obsessed.

There weren’t many clubs who could out-muscle the Premier League side in the transfer market back then, but it was game over as soon as Barcelona got involved. With a fierce tradition of eccentric Brazilians – Romario, Rivaldo, Ronaldo – the Nou Camp was Ronaldinho’s spiritual home, even if nobody knew it yet. It was his dream and, as it transpired, his destiny to play for the Catalans.

Maybe that’s why the stars aligned in such a mad way to ensure that’s where he ended up instead of Old Trafford. With Barca falling into obscurity, Joan Laporta and Sandro Rosell led their bid for the club’s presidency by promising one of three superstar signings: David Beckham, Thierry Henry, or Ronaldinho.

Upon election, the new president and vice president failed to lure Henry from Arsenal and lost Beckham to Real Madrid, so they nicked Ronaldinho from United’s grasp at the last minute and unveiled him on 20 July, 2003. The Brazilian once recalled: “It almost happened with United. It was a matter of 48 hours, but Rosell had told me way before I got the offer: ‘If I become Barca president, will you come?’ I said yes. “It was only a matter of details with United when Rosell called to say he was going to win the election there. And I had promised to him that I’d play for Barca.”

At €30million, huge money 20 years ago, Ronaldinho is still one of the greatest bargains in transfer history. Not only did he bring the glory days back to Barcelona almost single-handedly, his infectious joy on the pitch made him the most marketable, as well as the most talented, player on the planet by an absurd distance.

And according to United legend Paul Scholes, the blow of missing out on Ronaldinho was not lost on the players. Scholes once said: “I remember two or three that were possibly coming. I think the one that stands out is Ronaldinho. “He was away on pre-season and we were as close as announcing him and giving him a number, but I think he ended up changing his mind at the last minute and signing for Barcelona. “It’s strange really because we played Barcelona on that pre-season tour. “We were all excited – Ronaldinho, what a player! I think he was coming from PSG at the time and we were all going to get to play with him and he’s going to bring something special. “Almost like what Eric Cantona brought to the team. Then, three days later, we’re playing against him and all trying to kick him because he didn’t sign for us. “It was disappointing but I was lucky enough to play with some great players and he’d have just been another unbelievable player I’d had played with, but it just never happened.”

It wasn’t all bad for United when they missed out on Ronaldinho, however. Still desperate to soften the blow of Beckham’s departure and bring a new no.7 to Old Trafford, they signed this young bloke called Cristiano Ronaldo a few weeks later. In a storied career, Ronaldo became a legend, left in a record move, returned some years later and then set the place on fire.

And the legendary career of CR7 isn’t Ronaldinho’s only legacy at Old Trafford, he also inspired their best player today: Bruno Fernandes. The midfielder said: “In my first few years, the player I think is the one everyone liked and always will like is Ronaldinho. “For me, he is the player with the capacity to take you and put you in front of the TV, and you will stay for hours. For hours! “Because he had that energy and happiness. He was happy in everything he did. “You enjoy it when you see guys playing like that, so for the first few years Ronaldinho was my favourite player.”

So like the entire world of football, United have plenty to thank Ronaldinho for. But we’re still left imagining what it would’ve been like to see him flip-flapping all over the Premier League.
It is no secret that Brazilian footballing great Ronaldinho was on the brink of signing with Manchester United prior to the Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo joining.

The news comes from former Manchester United chief executive David Gill, who recently said that he was 48 hours away from signing Ronaldinho before Cristiano Ronaldo made his move.

Gill, speaking in an interview with the The Times, was candid about his decision to pass on signing Ronaldinho. He said: “Ronaldo was the opportunity we could not miss. The difference between the two players at the time was massive”.

Ronaldinho was a rising star at the time, having burst onto the scene with Paris Saint-Germain and was fresh from winning the 2002 World Cup. He had also just helped Barcelona to a La Liga title the season before.

It was a smart move from United, as Ronaldo would go on to become one of the greatest players in history, scoring almost 600 goals across all competitions and winning five major trophies with the club along the way.

Ronaldinho, despite being considered one of the greatest of all time as a player, never went on to attain that level of success that Ronaldo did at United.

It’s easy to think now, that with the hindsight of what we know, that United made the correct decision. But one has to acknowledge the bravery of Gill and the club for taking a chance on a relatively unknown player at the time.

All being said, it could have been a very different United had they managed to sign Ronaldinho instead of Ronaldo.

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