Premier League Legends: Cristiano Ronaldo

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Cristiano Ronaldo
MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 14: Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford on March 14, 2009 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Welcome back to the latest series of articles from Last Word on Football. This time we look back on the footballers who many class as Premier League legends. Players who wowed the crowd, frustrated the opposition, scored great goals and inspired their team to glory.
Today we look at a player who arrived in the Premier League as a raw talent with plenty of pace and tricks. Signed as a teenager by Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo developed amongst a team of winners and slowly developed into one of the greatest players to play in the Premier League. He was the main man for years at Old Trafford and his bursting trophy cabinet of individual and team honours are testament to his world-class stature.

Premier League Legends: Cristiano Ronaldo

Move to the Premier League

Prior to the 2003/04 season, on the way back from a pre-season tour of the USA, United stopped via Portugal on their way back to Manchester. The Red Devils played Sporting Lisbon in a friendly in August, winning 3-1. In the Lisbon side that day was a 17-year-old Ronaldo.

Fergie was so impressed with the youngster that he signed Ronaldo when the club returned to Manchester. Even some of the United players urged their boss to sign the talented Ronaldo after the match.

The Red Devils paid £12.24 million for Ronaldo later the same month, a world-record fee for a teenager at the time.

Ronaldo was immediately handed the number seven shirt. An iconic number following the likes of David Beckham, George Best and Eric Cantona. This only highlighted the faith Ferguson put in the Portuguese star when he arrived in Manchester.

Cristiano Ronaldo Impresses for United

Aged just 18, Ronaldo came off the bench to make his debut for United against Bolton Wanderers on August 16 2003. Within 30 minutes, United fans knew they had a star in their midst.

Sporting his flashy silver boots and with a blonde streak in his har, Ronaldo showcased step-overs, blistering acceleration and attack-minded focus. He won a penalty, which Ruud Van Nistelrooy missed. Ronaldo then teed up the Dutchman towards the end of the match, which he also missed.

It was a blistering start for the 17-yar-old. Ronaldo went on to make 40 appearances in all competitions in the 2003/04 season, scoring six goals and making nine assists.

He was also influential in the FA Cup final in 2004. The young star led United to a 3-0 win over Division One side Millwall. Ronaldo earned the man of the match award and was electric. His rabona cross for Paul Scholes in the early stages emphasised the audacity and skill he possessed. Ronaldo then scored the opener himself. Typically, the winger ghosted in at the far post and headed in a Gary Neville cross just before half time.

It was Ronaldo’s first major trophy and he also won the Player of the Year award at United in 2004. He would go on to be the first every United player to win this award on three separate occasions.

Formative Years Under Fergie

Ronaldo quickly developed under Ferguson and became accustomed to the physicality of the English game quickly. Often targeted for tough tackling by opponents, the young winger held his own.

The glimpses of class and quality were becoming normality and Ronaldo’s reputation was growing. Building on a solid first season, Ronaldo made another 50 appearances for United in the 2004/05 season, scoring nine goals and setting up 10.

Although United won no further silverware in the 04/05 season, despite reaching the FA Cup final again, Ronaldo was now an established regular under Fergie. The Portuguese star became the pinnacle of the team alongside fellow attackers Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Ruud Van Nistelrooy.

A relatively fallow year followed in 2005/06 for Ronaldo with 12 goals and 9 assists in all competitions. United did return to winning ways with a League Cup trophy. They defeated Wigan 4-0 in the final, with the deadly trio of Ronaldo, Rooney and Louis Saha all finding the net in a comfortable win.

A Premier League Great

It was the following season where Ronaldo lifted himself from the developing talent into a truly top player. United made an imperious start to the Premier League campaign, losing just one of their first 17 games of the campaign.

Ronaldo contributed six goals by this stage but really excelled in the second half of the season. He finished the season with 17 Premier League goals and scored three consecutive braces against Aston Villa, Wigan and Reading in December.

The Red Devils lifted the Premier League in 2007, Ronaldo’s first league title. However, it was the individual awards that Ronaldo dominated in 2007. He won his second Player of the Year award at United, the PFA, FWA, FPY and YPY awards. The first player ever to win all four.

Best Player in the World

In 2007/08, Portuguese star reached new heights in the Premier League. He finished the season with 31 league goals and was scoring one goal every 89 minutes.

The goals Ronaldo scored firmly confirmed his rise from a raw talent to Man United’s talisman. Headers, one-on-ones, tap ins, volleys, penalties, knuckleball free-kicks and an audacious backheel flick against Aston Villa at Old Trafford, were all part of Ronaldo’s repertoire.

Ronaldo had it all. He even finished seven goals ahead of challengers Fernando Torres and Emmanuel Adebayor for the Golden Boot award. Only four players have surpassed 30 goals in the Premier League era in one season.

Fergie’s United lifted the Premier League trophy again in 2008. Again, Ronaldo scooped up the individual awards, re-claiming the PFA, FWA and FPY awards.

European Success

This success was replicated on the continent as United went unbeaten in the Champions League in 2007/08. Fergie’s side beat Chelsea in the final on penalties in Moscow.

Ronaldo was central to United’s European success, scoring eight goals in the competition. He found the net at important moments too. Firstly, scoring the decisive goal against Olympique Lyon at Old Trafford in the last 16. He also scored the opener in the final against Chelsea.

European dominance saw Ronaldo receiving plaudits on the international stage. The sensational forward won the Ballon d’Or for the first time in 2008 and also won the FIFA World Player of the Year award.

Final Season

The Portuguese forward was now a superstar and, arguably, the greatest player on the planet. However, the 2008/09 season was Ronaldo’s last at Old Trafford.

It was another hugely successful season for United and Ronaldo. They lifted the Premier League for a third successive season, beating old rivals Arsenal on the final day of the season. United also won the League Cup in 2009, reached the Champions League final and FA Cup semi-final.

Ronaldo was sensational again, although, he didn’t quite reach the dizzy heights of the previous campaign with 26 goals in all competitions. For the first time in three seasons, there were also no individual awards for Ronaldo.

Departure to Real Madrid

United and Fergie were preparing for another campaign in the summer of 2009 with the intention of Ronaldo being in the squad. However, on June 11 2009, Ronaldo wanted to leave Old Trafford. Weeks later, a then world-record fee of £80 million was accepted by Real Madrid and the Portuguese star left Manchester for a new challenge at the age of 24.

Ronaldo finished his Manchester United career with nearly 300 appearances, 118 goals and 69 assists to his name.

Cristiano Ronaldo Is a Serial Winner

Following his departure from English football, Cristiano Ronaldo has become a serial winner. He continues to impress at the top level of elite football today.

Ronaldo won four more Ballon d’Ors and FIFA World Player of the Year awards, three UEFA Player of the year awards to add to his individual honours list. The talisman also lifted the Champions League four more times for Real Madrid, in addition to two La Liga and Copa Del Rey titles.

In 2016, he also led his country as captain to the EURO championship final. Heartbreakingly, Ronaldo was stretchered off in the opening stages of the win against France. He also lifted the Nations League trophy with Portugal in 2019.

Despite being in his twilight years at 35, Cristiano Ronaldo continues to challenge for titles in Italy with Serie A giants Juventus.

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