Former Manchester United midfielder Nicky Butt has opened up on how the club completed the signing of the recently returned Cristiano Ronaldo back in 2003 from Sporting Lisbon.
The Portugal international — who returned to Old Trafford from Juventus for a second spell last week — originally joined the club 18 years ago as a youngster after impressing in Portugal.
United signed Ronaldo in a deal worth just north of £12million, which, at the time, was a record transfer fee in English football for a player of his age.
Having been close to joining Arsenal, United, following a 3-1 defeat to Sporting in pre-season, made it their mission to sign Ronaldo there and then whilst in Portugal.
Butt has now revealed how former United boss Sir Alex Ferguson and ex-chief executive David Gill got a deal over the line for the now-36-year-old.
“We played a game in pre-season against Sporting Lisbon, and we’d just travelled from Chicago to Portugal,” said Butt, speaking exclusively to Ladbrokes.
“We’d got off the plane, had a bite to eat, we were all completely knackered, and we’d got onto the pitch and this young kid was just electrifying. We were all just looking at him and thinking ‘wow’.
“We were all making excuses after the game; we were tired, it was a rubbish game, and we ended up sat on the team coach for about three hours after the game. Everyone is getting annoyed because we just want to go, but it turns out the manager and David Gill were in the stadium pretty much signing Cristiano Ronaldo there and then.
“He came to our training ground, a young, tall but skinny young lad; a really nice lad, he had bags of pace, bags of skill and he was very determined. You’d kick him in training and he’d get up, get the ball and run at you again and again.
“Honestly, we didn’t expect him to be anywhere near the level he’s now at; we knew we had a super talent and we knew he was a top player.”
After scoring six goals in 40 appearances in all competitions for United in his debut season at Old Trafford, it was during the 2004/05 campaign when the former Real Madrid began to show exactly why Ferguson was so desperate to secure his signature, as he netted nine goals and claimed nine assist in 50 appearances.
“It was his second year at the club when we started to notice things,” Butt added. “You realise he’s spending much longer on the training ground and in the gym.
“It’s like he realised the areas he needed to improve in his game, so he would stay out, taking free-kick after free-kick, he’d be working on all of the little details that make him the player that he is now.
“I know people will think I’m exaggerating, but that’s a fact. He was out on the pitch, free-kick, free-kick, free-kick, free-kick, free-kick, free-kick, non-stop.
“I swear he was absolutely obsessed. He spent as much time as he could in the gym, getting bigger, getting stronger.
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“It was over those first couple of years at United we saw a real change in him, and then obviously he’s since gone on and reached a new level. He arrived at the same time as Eric Djemba-Djemba and the pair of them palled up together. They were very good mates, so it wasn’t like any of us felt like we had to take Ronaldo under our wings.
“There were so many good lads in that squad; we were all really close, so when we stepped out on the pitch, we all looked after each other.”
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