Why Liverpool missed out on Cristiano Ronaldo in 2003

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Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United is tackled by Albert Riera of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford on March 14, 2009 in Manchester, England
Photo: Laurence Griffiths/GETTY IMAGES

Former Liverpool assistant manager Phil Thompson has revealed that Cristiano Ronaldo may have ended up at Anfield back in 2003, if it wasn't for his wage demands.

It's well known that, before moving from Sporting Lisbon to Manchester United, Ronaldo had the chance to go to Arsenal, but now it's been disclosed that the Reds were also in the running to land the Portuguese star.

Thompson was sent on a scouting mission whilst working as assistant to then Liverpool manager Gérard Houllier.

The Reds legend was impressed by what he saw, but Houllier wasn't overly convinced about the deal.

The French boss feared Ronaldo's arrival would impact the club's wage structure, and cause dressing room unrest.

Reflecting on what could have been, Thompson told The Athletic:

He was being touted around everyone. Tony Henry, the former Man City midfielder, was working for Paul Stretford, who was tasked by Jorge Mendes to drum up interest in England.

They were desperate to get Ronaldo out of Sporting and invited me over for a game. I was told the fee was £4 million but they explained that it could be paid over the course of a four-year contract so essentially it was £1 million per year.

I asked what kind of salary he would want and they said it was £1 million per year after tax. That was a lot for an 18-year-old kid but they said that was negotiable.

As those back at Merseyside weighed up the merits of a move for a then unproven teenager, United seized the initiative and invested heavily in a man who has gone on to cement a standing as an all-time great.

Thompson then learned Ronaldo had signed for United by watching him standing next to Sir Alex Ferguson on Sky Sports News.

It was a Sunday and I explained to them that I needed to go back to Liverpool and speak to Gérard Houllier and see what we could do. I fed all the information back to Gerard, who said he would speak to [chief executive] Rick Parry.

Lo and behold, the following week I'm at Melwood when the yellow ticker on Sky Sports News says, "Manchester United sign Cristiano Ronaldo from Sporting for £12.2 million." I couldn't believe my eyes.

How had the fee gone up from £4 million to £12.2 million in a few days? Gérard asked me to phone Tony to find out what had gone on. Tony told me that when he'd got off the plane on the Monday he had got a call to say he was off the deal. It was down to Stretford and Mendes instead.

It was astonishing that the fee trebled. He was clearly a big talent but no one could have predicted back then how great he was going to be.

Ronaldo won three Premier League titles, the FA Cup and Champions League once and two League Cups during his time at Old Trafford.

He scored 118 goals in 292 games for United before joining Real Madrid for £80 million in 2009.

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