By Richard Clarke 

Arsène Wenger has revealed how close he came to signing Cristiano Ronaldo before the winger moved to Manchester United. 

The Portuguese international arrived at Old Trafford in August 2003 and has gone to become one of the Premier League’s major attractions. Only this week he won the Ballon d’Or to become European Footballer of the Year

However Arsenal nearly signed him first. Five years ago Ronaldo met Arsène Wenger at the Club’s Hertfordshire training ground, had a tour around the facilities and, just before he left, was presented with an Arsenal shirt with his own name on the back. 

The Frenchman even impressed Ronaldo’s mother to such as extent that she recognised him later on television. 

But the deal fell through because a price could not be agreed with Sporting Lisbon. 

“I had Ronald at the training ground,” said Wenger at Friday’s press conference. “I showed him around and I gave him a shirt. It had got his name on the back.

“But in the end it was a question of the amount of transfer fee between the two clubs. Of course, he has proved to be a bargain [at £12.25 million]. But the price that we discussed was in fact much lower, it was divided by three. 

“Also Manchester United had a partnership agreement with Lisbon and Carlos Queiroz [the Portuguese coach] knew him well.

“Since then they have signed Anderson and Nani from Portugal because of Queiroz. It’s like I can sign players from France because I know them well.”

Ironically enough, Arsenal first saw Ronaldo playing for Portugal at the Toulon Tournament in Wenger’s home country. He was mighty impressed but in the end opted to sign one of his compatriots.

“We watched him play in Toulon and we had bought Luis Boa Morte from the same tournament,” said Wenger. 

“I saw that he was an exceptional talent but we could not predict that he would become the player that he is. What we did not see in him at that time in Toulon was his capability to score goals. He was something special but he did not score goals, he did not even go in the box. 

“At the end of the day I wanted him to be here, but the most important thing is he made a career. He went to Man United and did that.

“I feel he would have done that here too but he is European Footballer of the Year now and that’s fantastic.”

Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to as the source
5 Dec 2008