Cristiano Ronaldo career since moving to Manchester United is well documented, as the Portuguese hitman cemented his status as an all-time great. However, his stint with Sporting Lisbon played a pivotal role in putting him on the map.
Bursting onto the scene as an 18-year-old, Cristiano Ronaldo wasn't destined for greatness from the offset. Speaking to Bleacher Report, former Sporting B coach Luis Alegria said that not everyone expected Cristiano Ronaldo to become the player he is today.
"I would be lying if I said that I expected Cristiano Ronaldo to become a five-time Ballon d'Or winner. It would be very easy for me to come here and claim that now. The truth is that he managed to get this far by his own merit."
The tale of Cristiano Ronaldo and Ricardo Quaresma
At the time, compatriot Ricardo Quaresma was ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo in the pecking order and was expected to have a brighter future in the game. However, as fate to have it, their career followed different trajectories since the summer of 2003.
Despite showing glimpses of his outrageous potential, Cristiano Ronaldo largely remained with the youth team in the 2001-02 season. In stark contrast, Quaresma featured 28 times for the senior side and looked closer to becoming a finished product.
In the following season, Cristiano Ronaldo was involved in a series of games that would go on to shape his career. His performance in a 1-1 draw against Lyon in pre-season saw him receive plaudits in Portugal, with local newspaper Record claiming that a star was born that day.
"Pay attention to this boy. He knows how to lose his opponent; he can dribble and has a nose for goal." - Portuguese newspaper Record, 2002
A Paris Saint-Germain with Mauricio Pochettino and Gabriel Heinze was his next test, as the 18-year-old once again produced a stunning showing. After his lively performance in a 2-2 draw, local broadcasters described as Sporting's newest sensation. However, Ronaldo insisted that he was just getting started.
"The fans have yet to see the real Ronaldo. This is just the beginning."
After Quaresma sealed a move to Barcelona, Cristiano Ronaldo was expected to replace the winger in the side. However, a pre-season friendly against Manchester United meant that Sir Alex Ferguson got a deal done for him immediately.
Luis Lourenco, a former teammate of Ronaldo at Sporting, claimed that the Manchester United game virtually sealed his departure from the club.
"It was a perfect night for him. He did whatever he wanted with [John] O'Shea. After the game, he asked me if I wanted to have dinner, and we went to this Italian restaurant in Rossio [a Lisbon neighborhood]. He didn't want to confirm the deal with United, but we all knew he wouldn't be wearing the Sporting shirt again"
At the age of 18, Cristiano Ronaldo was dubbed as a phenomenon by the Portuguese press and was also hailed as the biggest talent in world football. Seventeen years later, he is Portugal's record goalscorer, a five-time Ballon d'Or winner and one of the greatest footballers to have graced the game.