The prelude to the match
On the eve of the 6th of August 2003, Manchester United would not have imagined that a Ferrari is coming their way to halt their road show of pre-season friendlies. If one would have asked, who is Cristiano Ronaldo, it is hard to envision if any one of the United players knew about the teen-on-fire.
The only information the players had was that they have to keep an eye on the talented winger in the opposition team. At the pre-match talk in the dressing room, Ferguson had the following statement as part of his speech as narrated by former United defender Mark Lynch:
"At the end of his speech, Ferguson nonchalantly added, 'Oh, lads, and one final thing: They have a talented young winger. Look out for him, OK? He's strong and agile. He's quite good.' That was it, No big warning; no time spent on him; just a few words; almost as if Sir Alex wanted to shock us."
The next day when the play began, which was a friendly organized for the inauguration of the Alvalade XXI Stadium, John O'Shea was the first of the full-backs to taste the legend of Cristiano. Cristiano tormented O'Shea to shreds. At halftime, John had to sit down and catch his breath.
Why the friendly was organized?
A number of elite clubs were already pursuing the signatures of the teen sensation. However, Sir Alex Ferguson had other ideas. When Carlos Queiroz became his assistant in 2002, Ferguson came to know about Ronaldo from him. He promptly responded and sent Jim Ryan for a reality check.
At that time, Manchester United was following an agreement to sign a deal of informal alliance with Sporting CP to assist them on scouting, training and player development. Sir Alex came out with the idea of encashing the opportunity with a reciprocal deal to get Cristiano onboard. As a part of this deal, the pre-season friendly was organized to commemorate the inauguration of the Alvalade XXI Stadium.
The tired Manchester United team was eager to go home after returning from New York. But, they had to play this last match. And they were taken aback with the warm welcome Cristiano presented.
Hello Manchester, hello world...
As soon as the match started, it was quite evident about whom Ferguson was talking about. With almost every pass trying to find Ronaldo, it is needless to say that United players had got the idea of who is the main man in the opposition. They were disjointed by the speed and skills of Ronaldo. They had not encountered such an obstacle in the pre-season tour.
It was an audition that left mouths wide open of the entire United team in the first 15 minutes. John O'Shea was shell-shocked to Cristiano's skills; he had no answers to prevent him. Cristiano was tearing the Manchester defence apart as if it was a cakewalk for him.
When Cristiano missed his first header, he struck his head by himself in disappointment. The moment tells us about the hunger he had for the back of the net. The simple tricks and flicks, showboating, speed, and anger, all his attributes came to the fore in the same game. Sir Alex must be telling himself, "Welcome to Manchester, Cristiano. I am not leaving without signing you."
The penultimate pass for the first goal was world class even by the standards of a matured professional footballer. And Cristiano was playing in his first big match only. He bifurcated the midfield that opened a gateway for the final pass from which Luis Filipe scored the first goal for Sporting.
Cristiano was fouled by Lynch, who substituted O'Shea after halftime, on the left wing while showboating his trickeries against him; the eventual freekick gave Sporting their second of the night from a Joao Pinto header.
The final result of the match was showing 3-1 on the scoresheet, but more than the result this match is known as the audition of Cristiano Ronaldo to the world.
The path to glory begins
This match highlighted the urgency for negotiations to get the wonder kid. Sir Alex Ferguson left no stone unturned to have the rising star at Old Trafford. He signed Ronaldo just after the match.
And the legend of Cristiano Ronaldo began in the Premier League, only 10 days after this watershed event in Ronaldo's career. Even today, that audition of Cristiano stands as one of the greatest announcements to the footballing world by a teenager.