Why Woodward wouldn't sign a teenage Ronaldo now

This week marks 17 years since Manchester United signed an 18-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo from Sporting.

Apart from making many Reds feel very old indeed, that anniversary also offers a reminder of how United’s transfer dealings have drastically changed in the intervening period.

We’ve had a look back at the legendary circumstances around Ronaldo’s arrival, and why, in our view Ed Woodward wouldn’t be capable of a similar swoop today.

That fated pre-season encounter

Ronaldo gave United’s defenders twisted blood in a pre-season clash before the 2003-04 season.

The Mirror quote Ferguson from 2003 stating his players on the way back from the game were urging him to land the Portuguese teenager.

He said: “After we played Sporting last week the lads in the dressing room talked about him constantly and on the plane back they urged me to sign him.

“We have been negotiating for Cristiano for quite some time, but the interest in him from other clubs accelerated in the last few weeks so we had to move quickly to get him.

United were of course aware of Ronaldo before facing him first hand, but that match convinced Ferguson and his players that he had the ability to shine at United.

A deal was conducted remarkably quickly, with Ronaldo a United player within days.

PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images

Woodward wouldn’t make a similar swoop

17 years on, United are embroiled in yet another public transfer saga, over a potential British record transfer to land Jadon Sancho.

Ed Woodward has a penchant for this; the clicks it drives, the perceived status of offering big money and getting big engagement.

It doesn’t offer much on the football side; value for money, competent low-key negotiation or early business which allows a player ample pre-season.

Woodward is too busy chasing big-money, drawn-out transfers to lead a low-profile, quick to complete, cost-effective deal for an unknown talent who could blossom like Ronaldo did.

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Sam Preston is an NCTJ gold standard news and sports journalist who studied with the Press Association. He also has a 2:1 law with French law degree from the University of Birmingham, which included a year studying at Bordeaux Montaigne University. He is an FA Level 1 football coach who appeared on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show in 2018 and has also written digital football content and match-day programme pieces for Colchester United, Mansfield Town and Stockport County.