Cristiano Ronaldo Nearly Signed With Arsenal in 2003, Had Jersey With Name, Number Ready for Unveiling

Cristiano RonaldoArsene Wenger probably sees Cristiano Ronaldo as “the one that got away.”

In a new documentary film, the Arsenal manager reveals how close the Gunners came to signing Ronaldo over a decade ago. Ronaldo had impressed Wenger during a week-long tryout, and Arsenal even had jerseys with Ronaldo’s name and number printed ahead of his expected transfer from Sporting Lisbon. However, the Mirror reports Manchester United swooped for Ronaldo, and the rest is history.

“He was very close to coming here,” Wenger reveals in Ronaldo Footballing Superstar. “He has a number nine shirt with Ronaldo on the back from Arsenal Football Club.

“What happened was that Carlos Queiroz went to Manchester United [as assistant manager] and they snapped him away from us because he knew him from Sporting.

“That’s what life is about. You give your best but sometimes you might find that people are stronger than you. That can happen as well.”

Ronaldo spurned Arsenal and joined United in summer 2003 for £12 million ($19.8 million) when he was just 18 years old. It took him little time to establish himself as a regular in his new team’s lineup, and he helped United win a trophy — the FA Cup — in his first season in English soccer. Meanwhile, Wenger lead Arsenal to the Premier League title, as his “Invincibles” went undefeated in the league in the 2003-04 season.

The fortunes of the two clubs would soon diverge, as Ronaldo led United to glory, and Wenger’s Arsenal entered a lengthy trophy drought. Between 2003 and 2009, Between 2003 and 2009, Ronaldo won three Premier League titles, two FA Cups, three League Cups, one UEFA Champions League title and one FIFA Club World Cup as a United player. The Portuguese superstar also won the FIFA World Player of the Year award in 2008.

In 2009, Ronaldo would leave United for Real Madrid in a then world-record £80 million ($130 million) transfer. His legend continues to grow in the Spanish capital, as he has joined the ranks of Real Madrid’s (and world soccer’s) all-time greats in four-plus seasons.

Ronaldo’s Arsenal story is one of the starkest reminders that in soccer, a transfer is never complete until it’s actually complete.

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