Liverpool were on verge of snatching Cristiano Ronaldo for just £4m in shock transfer in 2003… before Man Utd swooped

LIVERPOOL were on the verge of signing Cristiano Ronaldo for just £4million in 2003… before Manchester United swooped.

Sir Alex Ferguson famously landed the Portuguese teenager – in part after his impressive performance in a friendly for Sporting Lisbon against the Red Devils.

United paid around £12.2million, fighting off competition from Arsenal, Barcelona and Juventus – and leaving Liverpool's management 'choking on their food'.

The Reds had watched Ronaldo shine for Sporting against Porto and assistant manager Phil Thompson went for dinner in Portugal with agent Tony Henry to discuss signing Ronaldo.

Thompson told The Athletic: "I can still remember Tony's exact words.

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"It was all very nice and relaxed. 'It's £4m and it can be paid over the four years of his contract, so £1m a year.'

"That seemed very reasonable. Then I asked about the salary and Tony told me it was £1m a year, net."

Liverpool had some reservations about the wage demands but were eager to secure a deal for a 'great talent'.

Personal terms had not been finalised but the Anfield side believed they had a deal in place – with boss Gerard Houllier going to watch Ronaldo at the Toulon tournament for Portugal Under-20s – until suddenly he had signed for arch-rivals United.

Thompson added: "On the Tuesday morning, we were having lunch at the training ground and it came up on the yellow strap on Sky Sports, 'Manchester United have signed Cristiano Ronaldo for £12.2m'.

"Gerard and myself almost choked on our food. I can remember Gerard jumping up and saying, 'What the hell has gone on there?'"

Liverpool were not the only Premier League rival to miss out on landing Ronaldo.

Like the Kop club, Arsenal thought they had done enough to convince the talented youngster to join them – with Arsene Wenger revealing he even had the shirt.

Wenger said: "We had an agreement with Sporting and Manchester United took Carlos Queiroz as assistant coach, and they just outbid us quickly and took Ronaldo, but we had an agreement basically.

"He had the shirt of Arsenal, I had lunch with him and his mother at the training ground!"

Ferguson had his man, though, and the pair never looked back.

Ronaldo went on to play 292 times for United, scoring 118 goals and winning eight major honours as well as the 2008 Ballon d'Or.

That earned him a world-record transfer to Real Madrid in 2009 where 11 more trophies followed as well as a further four Ballons d'Or.

He signed for Juventus in 2018, winning the Serie A title in both seasons, and enjoyed success on the international stage by passing 100 goals for Portugal and lifting the Euro 2016 and Nations League trophies.

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