As Cristiano Ronaldo returns to Manchester United, we look at the Portuguese’s greatest moments with the Red Devils during his first stint with the team (2003-2009).
The Debut, 2003-04
Coming on for Nicky Butt in the 61st minute of the opening day match against Bolton Wanderers, Manchester United saw the birth of a legend.
United were 1-0 up when Ronaldo made his debut and by the time the final whistle blew, they had comfortably won 4-0. The main reason for their emphatic victory that saw three goals in the final half an hour was their debutant Cristiano Ronaldo. The young Portuguese ran all over the Bolton defence and even though he didn’t score, his presence was enough to boost his team.
A legend was born.
First Goal- versus Portsmouth, 2003-04
Two and a half months after his debut, on November 1, 2003, Ronaldo found the back of the net for the first time in a Manchester United shirt.
Coming off the bench, Ronaldo was given the responsibility of taking a free kick. He curled a long distance free kick straight into the left corner off the net in the 80th minute and even assisted his captain Roy Keane a few minutes later. In the young Portuguese, United had found a worthy replacement to David Beckham.
FA Cup Final Goal in Debut Season – FA Cup Final, May 2004
Ronaldo ended his debut season with Manchester United with silverware, as he helped United beat Millwall in the 2004 FA Cup final and earn him his first trophy.
After keeping United at bay for almost the entirety of the first half, on the cusp of half time, United captain Roy Keane found Gary Neville at the edge of the penalty box and the right-back wasted no time in chipping in a cross across the box. A defensive error from Dennis Wise, who waited for the ball to arrive instead of clearing it, allowed Ronaldo to pounce on the opportunity and head it past goalkeeper Andy Marshall to give United a crucial 1-0 lead going into halftime. United had no issues in the second half as they completed a 3-0 sweep and it led to Ronaldo earning his very first silverware with the Red Devils and he played a significant part in it.
Portsmouth Free-Kick, January 30, 2008
The greatest Premier League free-kick? Hard to disagree.
Struck from 25 yards out against one of England’s best, David James. It wasn’t easy, but then again, Ronaldo never did easy. He took his time over the ball, in his famous stance, took three steps back from the ball, exhaled and then proceeded towards the ball. Ronaldo smashed it straight into the top right corner, which left a helpless James just be able to collect the ball out of the back of the net. The famous “knuckleball” smashed from Ronaldo saw Old Trafford rise to its feet and applaud the genius in front of their eyes.
Besting the Best, 2007-08
By the end of the 2007-08 season, Ronaldo was a beast. The Portuguese would score goals willy-nilly, for fun. Some of the goals he scored were absolutely outrageous, but Ronaldo did it without breaking a sweat.
By the end of Manchester United’s 2007-08 season, Ronaldo had 33 goals, which saw him create a United record for most goals scored by a midfielder in a single season. By creating this record, he broke the previous record, which was created by George Best almost 40 years ago.
33 goals. Not bad for a midfielder, right? Well, Ronaldo’s total tally for the season was 42. Their next best was Carlos Tevez with less than half of what Ronaldo scored, at 19. And Tevez was a striker. Tevez and Rooney together managed 37 goals.
Champions League Final, 2008
The 2007-08 season was a different one for Cristiano Ronaldo. He helped United win the Premier League, was their top scorer for the season, won the Premier League Golden Boot and to top everything, he helped his team become European champions.
At the 2008 Champions League final, United were up against Chelsea in a mouth-watering clash. And on the big night, Ronaldo rose to the occasion once again. He gave United a crucial early lead in the final. Even though Chelsea equalised through Frank Lampard, United held their nerves in one of the greatest penalty shoot-outs in modern history to clinch the title 6-5. Ronaldo, who had had his spot-kick saved, showcased what the win meant for him and his team at the end of the game. As Edwin van der Sar made the final save from Nicolas Anelka’s shot, Ronaldo dropped down onto his knees and then laid at the centre line, in the rain, crying his heart out. Those weren’t tears of sadness, but of joy and happiness. He showed the world that he had conquered not only England but Europe too.
And, no prizes for guessing who ended as the Champions League’s top scorer that season.
Ballon d’Or 2008
Ronaldo signed off an extremely successful 2007-08 season by taking home the most decorated prize there is for individual brilliance, the FIFA Ballon d’Or.
By winning the Ballon d’Or, Ronaldo became the first United player to win the award since George Best who had won it in 1968.
Aston Villa Comeback, 2008-2009
United were handed an early goal from a direct free kick inside the box when James Milner’s back pass was handled by the Villa keeper. Ronaldo wasted no time in dispatching the dead-ball and putting United 1-0 up. Despite all of the 9 Villa players (excluding the keeper) being inside the box, Ronaldo still found a way to the back of the net. Aston Villa, though, were in no mood to concede and made a remarkable comeback to go 2-1 up in the second half.
With 10 minutes to go, United still trailed by a goal. In the 80th minute, Carrick intercepted a poor clearance from the Villa defence and played it to Giggs who brought it down to Carrick, who laid it to the centre to Ronaldo. Receiving Carrick’s pass on his left side, just outside the D, Ronaldo let loose with his weaker left foot and found the right-hand bottom corner. Federico Macheda went on to score in stoppage time to win the match for United, but Ronaldo had once again shown his skill and never-give-up attitude that helped United come from behind to secure a classic comeback win.
Porto to Puskás, Champions League Quarter-final 2009
Although United couldn’t defend their Champions League crown in 2009, Ronaldo made sure that even though his team didn’t leave Rome with the winner’s trophy, all the talk about the tournament would be about him.
In the quarter-final of the Champions League, United had their backs up against the wall after letting Porto leave Old Trafford with two crucial away goals as the first leg ended in 2-2. Heading to Portugal, United’s task wasn’t going to be an easy one. But, six minutes into the game, Ronaldo received a pass from Anderson, just above the halfway line and from 40 yards out, and let out an absolute screamer that gave the Porto keeper no chance to even get fingertips on it. Not only was it a wonder strike, it also helped United seal the tie 1-0 and advance to the semi-finals
Ronaldo’s sheer pace, power, accuracy along with precision were perfectly showcased through that brilliant goal and he even went on to win the inaugural Puskás Award for the best goal of the season.
Arsenal Annihilation – Semi-finals, 2008-09 Champions League
If you thought Ronaldo was done after that wonder Porto strike, you were quite mistaken. A match after his Porto heroics, United faced Arsenal in the semi-finals. In the opening leg, United took home the home advantage as they secured a 1-0 win over the Gunners, but they knew that at the Emirates it could go south every quickly.
After a quick opener from Park Ji-Sung which Ronaldo set up, the Portuguese quickly gave United a two-goal comfort on the night with a screamer from 35 yards out. After being brought down by Robin van Persie, Ronaldo lined up a 35-yard free-kick and once again displayed his pace and power as he beat Manuel Almunia. In Almunia’s defence, one could say there wasn’t much he could do.
Ronaldo, though, wasn’t done. In the second half, as Arsenal were looking to turn the pressure to 11 against the visitors, on 59 minutes, the hosts won a corner. Robin van Persie rolled it to Samir Nasri at the edge of the box who took a feeble shot that was cleared out aerially by Nemanja Vidić and the ball fell to Ronaldo who was facing his own goal. He back-flicked the ball to Park Ji-Sung, turned 180 degrees and set off. As Park played the ball wide up left to Wayne Rooney, Ronaldo was sprinting through the middle for a return ball. Rooney wasted no time in finding Ronaldo, who had dashed into the Arsenal box and smashed it into the top left corner, leaving Almunia no chance of stopping it.
From mastery of the dead-ball to a lightning-fast counterattack, Ronaldo showed his range and talent once again at Europe’s biggest stage.