He simply destroyed us... and we kept begging Fergie to sign him up
Wayne Rooney still a year away, Ferguson and his team needed fresh impetus. United's marketing men also needed another superstar to help them shift shirts. As it transpired, Ronaldo was to give United the complete package. As marketable as Beckham? Not quite. As useful on the field? Definitely. English football watchers did not get to see Ronaldo in the flesh until his debut as a substitute in a 4-0 home win over Bolton that marked the start of the 2003-04 season. He played for 30 minutes and in many ways that cameo showcased the best and worst of what was to come. 'Some of the things he did on the ball were unbelievable that day,' said Ryan Giggs. 'He dazzled a tired defence with a brilliant display of pace and skill. He did tend to overdo the stepover a bit, though.' Also in evidence that day was the showboating that was to irritate and infuriate team-mates and manager through his six years at Old Trafford. He also spent a fair amount of his half-hour appearance on the ground. With Ronaldo, even as he grew older and wiser, it was always to be this way. It was hard to love him, even if you wanted to. Equally, it was just as hard to ignore him. His football grew steadily more effective and intelligent as he flourished under the guidance of Ferguson and his Portuguese assistant, Carlos Queiroz. There were moments of controversy as United's progress threatened to stall during their dismal 2005-06 campaign, Giggs epitomising the United dressing room's occasional frustration with their most precocious member by asking 'What about that lazy w****r?' when substituted during a European game. That year's World Cup also brought Ronaldo into further confrontation with players close to home as he was seen encouraging a referee to send off Rooney during a quarter-final meeting between England and Portugal in Gelsenkirchen. Already tired of English food, weather and drinking habits, the predictable backlash briefly caused him to consider a future away from Old Trafford. Ronaldo with the Golden Boot as Europe’s top scorer in October, and celebrating United’s Premier League title triumph with mum Dolores last month But Ferguson steered his protege back on course, and momentum built towards the staggering 2007-08 season in which Ronaldo scored 42 goals in propelling United towards a second successive league title and their first Champions League triumph for nine years. Some of his contributions that year will never be forgotten. A backheeled goal against Aston Villa stands out, as do a number of freekicks that eclipsed all but the best of the Beckham back catalogue. Buried beneath it all were Ronaldo's poor manners, a disregard for team ethics and an almost suffocating growth in his own self importance. I once saw him speak to a female club employee in front of journalists in a manner that would have brought Ferguson's blood to boiling point. It is also the case that Ferguson had increasingly to build his tactics around Ronaldo - as much as to accommodate his shortcomings when United did not have the ball as to maximise his effectiveness when they did. This was especially true in Europe. His legacy will, however, endure. I have never viewed Ronaldo as United's most important player. That distinction, in my view, belongs to Rooney. He was, however, part of something special at Old Trafford, a leading light in the club's third coming under Ferguson. United would not be where they are now without Cristiano Ronaldo. Love him or hate him, we will miss him now that he has gone.