Arsene Wenger revealed how close Cristiano Ronaldo was to becoming an Arsenal player before Manchester United swooped in.
Wenger, along with countless other coaches in Europe, was made aware of exciting young talent in Ronaldo and invited him to Arsenal’s training ground in November 2002. Liverpool and Barcelona were also interested.
A move to north London, however, seemed probable at that stage as Arsenal and Cristiano’s club Sporting CP began talks.
Things progressed nicely, with Arsenal striking an agreement with Sporting and holding promising talks with Ronaldo and his mother. However, Manchester United outbid the Gunners with a late move in the summer of 2003.
Quizzed in a Q&A for The Guardian on his most painful transfer regret, Wenger said: “Oof! I would say there is not one player, there are 50!
“On the other hand, maybe the closest [to that] was Cristiano Ronaldo, when he signed for Man United.
“We had an agreement with Sporting and Man United took Carlos Queiroz as an assistant coach, and they just outbid us quickly and took Ronaldo, but we had an agreement basically. He had the shirt of Arsenal, I had lunch with him and his mother at the training ground!”
The former Arsenal boss added: “It’s one example, but there were so many. The history of a big club is full of missed great players!”
Ronaldo went on to help United win three Premier League titles and a Champions League during a six-year spell. He provided 118 goals and 69 assists in 292 outings and won the first of his five Ballon d’Or awards at Old Trafford.