By Arsenal correspondent Tony Hughes
Arsenal were in the driving seat to sign Cristiano Ronaldo when he was 18 but missed out because their offer was too low, a new book reveals.
Ronaldo had been persuaded to move from Sporting Lisbon to the Gunners early in 2003 after visiting the London club’s training headquarters, with his agent Jorge Mendes convinced the deal would be finalised.
However, a transfer fee could not be agreed between the two clubs and the young Portugese star signed for Manchester United the following summer.
“The club making the greatest headway in 2003 was Arsenal,” according to author Guillem Balague in Cristiano Ronaldo: The Biography. ”
“Chief scout Steve Rowley met Mendes and Ronaldo in Lisbon early in the year to plant the seed. ‘There was a time when I really thought he was going to Arsenal,’ admitted Mendes.
“Cristiano travelled to London with his mother in January to see the club’s training ground and meet Arsene Wenger and one of his idols, Thierry Henry.
‘We were in a car and Jorge kept calling me to reiterate I had to make sure nobody saw me,’ recalled Ronaldo. ‘We stopped at a service station and I had to have my face covered. Jorge was calling me every five minutes: “Be careful, be careful around people!”
“Cristiano fell in love with the club, what it offered, the philosophy and the care with which young players are treated.
“Arsenal, who wanted to confirm that he had the personality required to change his own lifestyle, country, language, had no doubts after his visit: he was ready. The player wanted to sign for the club. Mendes, too. As did Wenger, who kept the number nine shirt for him.”
It fell to transfer and contract negotiator David Dein, then the vice-chairman, to seal the deal for the player who would go on to become one of the greatest-ever during the following 12 years at United and Real Madrid.
“Dein travelled to the Portuguese capital to seal the deal, but the initial offer was too low for Sporting. ‘Arsenal, with the construction of the new stadium, were short on funds and it wasn’t possible to make the move happen,’ stated Mendes.
“The mistake by Arsenal was that, despite the very advanced negotiations, nothing was signed. Meanwhile, Manchester United agreed to play Sporting Lisbon in a friendly that very summer.”