Alex Ferguson made secret agreement with Cristiano Ronaldo to delay Real Madrid move
'I know you want to go to Real Madrid, but I'd rather shoot you than sell you to that guy'
When Cristiano Ronaldo sealed a then-world record transfer from Manchester United to Real Madrid, in July 2009, it came as little surprise.
In his six years at Old Trafford, Ronaldo had evolved from a precociously gifted teenager to the best player in the world, winning every possible accolade along the way.
A move to Madrid represented a new challenge for him and, back under the presidency of the re-elected Florentino Perez, Real had no qualms in paying the £80m fee.
Ronaldo's move to Madrid was inevitable
For the 12 months leading up to Ronaldo's departure from Manchester, there was an inevitability that his path would one day lead to the Bernabeu - a matter of when, not if.
In the summer of 2008, after Ronaldo had helped steer United to their third European Cup in Moscow, Perez's predecessor, Ramon Calderon, had openly spoken of his intentions to make him a Real Madrid player.
Ferguson was angered by Real Madrid's public pursuit of Ronaldo
In his autobiography, the legendary United manager recounts how the Portugal international expressed his wish to complete the transfer a year before it was finalised, only to be appeased by reaching a secret agreement.
Ferguson travelled to Ronaldo's homeland to meet him at the house of his assistant, Carlos Quieroz. In his autobiography, he writes:
'I found the boy expressing an urge to go to Real Madrid, and told him: 'You can't go this year, not after the way Calderon has approached the issue.' I said, 'I know you want to go to Real Madrid, but I'd rather shoot you than sell you to that guy now. If you perform, don't mess us about, and someone comes and offers us a world record fee, then we will let you go.' I had already conveyed that message to his agent Jorge Mendes.
'I did well to calm him down. I told him the reason I was refusing to sell him that year was because of Calderon. I said, 'If I do that, all my honour's gone, everything's gone for me, and I don't care if you have to sit in the stands. I know it won't come to that, but I just have to tell you I will not let you leave this year.''
Ferguson later informed United's then-chief executive, David Gill, who relayed the message to the Glazer family. Concerned that the details of the agreement would reach the public domain, Ferguson adds how he warned Ronaldo to that effect.
The agreement served all parties well. Ferguson would have a year to identify something close to an adequate replacement (or, as it turned out, Antonio Valencia, Michael Owen and Gabriel Obertan) while reaping the benefits of being able to call on Ronaldo's brilliance for another season.
As for the player, with the incentive to perform well and earn the move he so desperately craved, he helped United to another Premier League title and the League Cup. Were it not for Pep Guardiola's Barcelona, his final act as a United player might have been to win his second Champions League title in succession.
Ronaldo made his move to Madrid in 2009
Ronaldo left United having scored 118 times in 292 appearances, winning the Champions League, three Premier League titles, one FA Cup and two League Cups. He arrived in Spain as Perez began an ambitious plan to return Real to the pinnacle of European football after several fallow seasons in the Champions League.
Though it took Ronaldo five years to win his first European Cup with Real, he went on to win three more in the four seasons that followed. When he left the Bernabeu for Juventus in 2018, he did so as the the club's all-time leading goalscorer.
Ronaldo's return to Manchester United
Ronaldo was regularly linked with a return to Old Trafford throughout his nine-year stint in Madrid. It never materialised, despite claims there as a strong belief in Manchester that it was possible in 2013.
Ronaldo did return to United during the early weeks of the 2021/22 season, despite appearing close to a move to Manchester City in the days before the deal was finalised. Ferguson is believed to have been instrumental in making the transfer happen.
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