Cristiano Ronaldo is quite possibly Manchester United’s best ever signing.
The lanky teenager who arrived at Old Trafford for little more than £12million in August 2003 would leave the club in 2009 for Real Madrid as arguably the world’s best player.
Resigned to losing their prized asset to Real, United dug their heels in and made sure they received a world-record £80m for the Portuguese forward.
But looking back at the summer when Ronaldo arrived at the club, Sir Alex Ferguson made some truly rotten signings.
Here’s who came in during the summer of 2003:
Cristiano Ronaldo (from Sporting Lisbon, £12.24m)
Ronaldo’s rise happened at a remarkable rate at United. He arrived as a tricky winger who blew hot and cold, often focusing too much on tricks and histrionics to truly impact the game. But, with Ferguson’s leadership, he would soon become the Premier League’s most fearsome attacker. In his penultimate season he scored 31 league goals and helped the club to three titles, an FA Cup, two League Cups and a Champions League crown.
Eric Djemba-Djemba (from Nantes, £3.5m)
The Cameroon midfielder arrived from Nantes for £3.5m. With a reputation for tough tackling and dynamism, some believed he could become a long-term replacement for current captain Roy Keane, but the reality couldn’t have been more different. After failing to force his way into a midfield including Keane, Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher, Djemba-Djemba only played 20 times in his two seasons at United, and was shipped out to Aston Villa, where he failed to make an impact too.
Kleberson (from Paranaense, £6m)
Reportedly signed as a friendly face for countryman Ronaldinho (who, of course, chose to sign for Barcelona instead), Kleberson had been part of Brazil’s World Cup-winning side in 2002. Unveiled on the same day as Ronaldo, Kleberson’s career went in the opposite direction. The midfielder failed to break into the first team and was sold in 2005 to Besiktas. He managed to earn 32 caps for Brazil between 2002 and 2010, having spent the rest of his career in Brazil and the USA.
David Bellion (from Sunderland, £2m)
If Ronaldo was the best of this batch, maybe Bellion was the worst. Having scored once in 20 league appearances at Sunderland, some United fans were excited to see the pacy young Frenchman arrive at Old Trafford. But Bellion was anything but prolific, and was unable to make his mark at United. He left the club after three years with just four league goals to his name. At least he won the 2003 Community Shield.
Tim Howard (from MetroStars, £2.3m)
Other than Ronaldo, Howard was a success at United. The American’s arrival precipitated the departure of Fabian Barthez, who saw his No 1 spot taken by Howard. He kept Barthez out for a season, but injuries and some suspect performances saw him share goalkeeping duties the following season with Roy Carroll. But the arrival of Edwin van der Saar in 2005 saw Howard’s opportunities diminish. In 2007, Howard left for Everton, with many believing United should have done more to hold on to the goalkeeper. He would go on to become a cult hero at Goodison Park, and is currently plying his trade in the MLS.
So one quite good signing, three woeful ones and one of the club’s greatest ever players. Sir Alex must’ve been grateful that Ronaldo arrived that summer, otherwise his transfer policy would’ve looked rather bleak.