From the moment Cristiano Ronaldo walked through the door at Old Trafford in 2003, Roy Keane knew the club had signed a world beater.
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Manchester United had moved quickly to snap up the sought after 18-year-old and paid Sporting Lisbon £12.24million for him, having watched him give John O’Shea the run around.
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Writing in his autobiography, The Second Half, Keane said: “I liked the lad straightaway. He had a nice presence about him, and a good attitude.
“What impressed me most was that he’d been given the option of staying in Lisbon for another year, on loan, but he said no; he’d come over to Manchester straightaway. I thought it was a good, brave decision – because he was only seventeen.
“After the first few days, watching him train, my reaction was, ‘This lad is going to be one of the world’s greatest players.’ I didn’t say it publicly, because I’d always be wary of building a player up too early – or knocking him down.
“He looked like a player. You have to look the part, and he did. [Zinedine] Zidane looked like a player – and Ronaldo looked like a player. The shape, the body language – they were there. A bit of arrogance, too. But he’d a nice way about him; he was very likeable. We forget that he was very heavily criticised when he first came on the scene. He was going down too quickly when tackled, his final product wasn’t good enough. But – again – he was only seventeen, a kid. I was playing youth football for Rockmount, in Cork, at that age.
“He was amazing. He was immediately one of the hardest working players at United. Most of the players I knew worked hard, but Ronaldo had the talent on top of the work rate.
“He was good-looking and he knew it. He was vain in that sense – at the mirror. He was a big lad, a big unit. I’d think, ‘Good on yeh.’ Looking at some of the other lads in front of the mirror, I’d think, ‘Yeh f***in’ nugget.’
“But Ronaldo had an innocence to him, and a niceness. I don’t think he ever slackened off, or that he was ever more worried about the mirror than his game. I always felt that football was his love.”
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Ronaldo, now 36, won the FA Cup alongside Keane in 2004 and the forward remained at the club for another five years where he won three Premier League titles, the Ballon d’Or and the Champions League before an £80m transfer to Real Madrid.
As anyone who watches telly knows, Keane is a hard man to impress, but the way Ronaldo goes about his work left an impression on taskmaster Keane who was always pushing his team-mates to do better.
Since leaving United, Ronaldo – now at Juventus – has cemented his place as one of the game’s greatest, with another four Ballons d’Or and Champions League successes to add to the ones collected in Manchester.
In addition, he has shattered goal records both domestically and is closing in on the international scene.