Flashback to Cristiano Ronaldo's Manchester United debut vs. Bolton

Published on: 15 August 2018

In his first appearance in a Juventus shirt, Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring during the club's annual intra-squad friendly in Villar Perosa.

This week marks 15 years since Cristiano Ronaldo made his Manchester United debut. On Aug. 16, 2003, Sir Alex Ferguson introduced a scrawny 18-year-old as a second-half substitute against Bolton Wanderers on the opening day of the Premier League season.

Few of the 67,647 fans inside Old Trafford knew who he was. But by the time he left the club six years later, he was regarded as one of the best players on the planet and commanded a world-record transfer fee of £80 million for his move to Real Madrid.

ESPN FC looks back on Ronaldo's debut, as well as the impact it had on Ferguson's United team and the Portuguese winger.

The background

United toured the United States during the summer of 2003 but made one last stop in Portugal to play Sporting Lisbon before heading home. They lost 3-1, but Ferguson made sure it wasn't a wasted trip by coming back with Ronaldo.

So impressive was Ronaldo during the game, Ferguson claimed later his own players had urged him to sign the teenager while on the plane home.

The United manager insisted an agreement had been in place for months but United were forced to conclude the deal quickly when it became clear other clubs were circling. United announced a £12.25 million deal to sign Ronaldo on Aug. 12, and four days later he was in the squad to face Bolton at Old Trafford on the opening day of the season.

The team

United started the 2003-04 season as champions, but it had been a trying summer after the high-profile departures of David Beckham and Juan Sebastian Veron. Ferguson missed out on his big-name signing when Paris Saint-Germain forward Ronaldinho chose Barcelona instead.

Established stars like Rio Ferdinand, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes and Ruud van Nistelrooy were still at the club, but the team Ferguson picked to face Bolton still had a makeshift look about it with Quinton Fortune at left-back and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in midfield.

However, much of the disquiet among United supporters had disappeared by the time the final whistle blew against Bolton, having watched Ronaldo for just 29 minutes.

United: Tim Howard, Phil Neville, Quinton Fortune, Rio Ferdinand, Mikael Silvestre, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (Eric Djemba-Djemba, 67), Roy Keane, Nicky Butt (Cristiano Ronaldo, 61), Ryan Giggs (Diego Forlan, 80), Paul Scholes, Ruud van Nistelrooy. Not used: Roy Carroll, John O'Shea.

Bolton: Jussi Jaaskelainen, Nicky Hunt, Florent Laville, Bruno N'Gotty, Ricardo Gardner, Stelios Giannakopoulos (Delroy Facey, 76), Jay-Jay Okocha, Ivan Campo, Kevin Nolan (Per Frandsen, 72), Henrik Pedersen (Youri Djorkaeff, 59), Kevin Davies. Not used: Kevin Poole, Anthony Barness.

The match

In August sunshine at Old Trafford, Ryan Giggs scored a free kick to put United 1-0 up after 35 minutes. But if that was meant to kick-start a rout, it never happened. Kevin Nolan had a chance to equalise for Bolton just after half-time, and not long afterward, Ferguson had seen enough.

Ronaldo, wearing Beckham's old No. 7 with blonde streaks in his hair, a teenager's complexion and nonchalantly chewing gum, was ordered on in place of Nicky Butt after 61 minutes.

The first two or three touches from his striking silver boots looked nervy. But by the time his cameo was over, he had given Bolton right-back Nicky Hunt nightmares, won a penalty that Van Nistelrooy missed, laid on another golden chance for the Dutchman and had been involved in Giggs' second goal.

In stoppage time, he was confident enough to ask Phil Neville to step aside and let him take a free kick. Ronaldo played for less than 30 minutes, but during that time United had gone from grappling with Bolton to cruising to a 4-0 win.

The reaction

Giggs scored twice, Scholes had been fantastic, but all anyone wanted to talk about afterward was Ronaldo. Ferguson, usually so careful not to put too much pressure on young players, said United fans had "a new hero."

"It was a marvellous debut, almost unbelievable," added the United manager. "I thought the pace was too slow in the first half and I knew Cristiano would add penetration. We have to be careful with the boy. You must remember he is only 18. We are going to have to gauge when we use him."

Bolton boss Sam Allardyce admitted he had hoped Ronaldo's debut would come later in the season after a conversation with striker Mario Jardel, a former teammate of Ronaldo's at Sporting.

"After what Mario told us we were hoping he wouldn't even be on the bench," Allardyce said. "He reminds me of Ryan Giggs when he first started. He can go inside, outside, uses both feet and runs at people. Everyone holds their breath when he gets the ball."

Even one of United's greatest No. 7s was impressed.

"It was undoubtedly the most exciting debut performance I've ever seen," said George Best. "There have been players who have some similarities [to me], but this lad's got more than anyone else, especially as he is genuinely two-footed. He can play on either wing, beat players with ease and put in dangerous crosses with his left or right peg. When was the last time you saw that?"

What happened next?

In the aftermath of his move to United, Ronaldo was called up by Portugal for the first time and joined up with the squad immediately after his dazzling debut against Bolton.

He had to wait until Aug. 27 for his first United start against Wolves at Old Trafford, and it wasn't until nearly two months later that he got his first goal in a 3-0 home win over Portsmouth.

In six years at Old Trafford he won everything -- three Premier League titles, two League Cups, the FA Cup, the Club World Cup and the Champions League.

United's Premier League and Champions League double in 2008 was built on his goals -- an astonishing 42 in 49 games, including one in the Champions League final against Chelsea -- and he was named World Player of the Year for the first time.

After leaving for Real Madrid in 2009, he went on to win the Ballon d'Or on four more occasions and lift the Champions League another four times. This summer, at the age of the 33, he joined Juventus for €100 million -- the highest transfer fee ever paid by an Italian side and the highest fee ever commanded for a player over 30.

Source: espn.co.uk

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