Manchester United legend Sir Alex Ferguson first spotted Cristiano Ronaldo during a game against Sporting Lisbon in 2003. So blown away was ‘Furious Fergie’ at what he saw, that he signed up the Spaniard without any further ado.
At the age of 18, Ronaldo made his debut for United at Old Trafford and amazed the crowds who had only heard about the Portuguese’s competence through the tabloids. The winger was an instant hit with the United fans, and although he was criticized for an overelaboration of his skills and a tendency to go down easily, Ronaldo transformed himself into a goal-scoring beast.
From 18 Premier League goals during his first three seasons, Ronaldo hit 66 in his next three with at Old Trafford. However, the foundation for a meteoric 2007/08 campaign began towards the end of the 2006/07 campaign, when the Portuguese scored 17 goals, making it his most successful season until that point.
But it was 2007/08 when he completely unleashed himself and turned into a goal-scoring beast. Ronaldo was utterly ruthless that season and was supported by Ferguson’s tactical changes, which relieved him from his defensive duties.
At the time, he started playing more as a right-winger, and in certain matches, as a centre-forward. This allowed Ronaldo to make lung-bursting runs on the flank and ease in receiving the ball high up the pitch.
The highlight of Ronaldo’s showreel was his clinical free kick against Portsmouth in the Premier League. Coincidently, he scored his first goal for United with a free kick against Portsmouth. This was also the season when the Portuguese racked up his first and only hat-trick for United in a 6-0 win against Newcastle United.
His start to the 2007/08 campaign wasn’t a memorable one. He was sent off on the opening day as United made an inauspicious start to their new season. But silencing his critics has been one of the most defining qualities of the winger. He produced a wonderful header against AS Roma in the quarter-final of the Champions League to send United through to the semis.
United came on top in the Premier League and Ronaldo’s run of 31 goals in the tournament became his magnum opus at the club. Although the crowning jewel was the thunderous header in the Champions League final against Chelsea, when he leaped the highest to give United the lead.
The Red Devils ended up winning the double – Premier League and the Champions League —courtesy of a phenomenal season by their iconic forward.
His hard work was rewarded as he became only the second Premier League player to win the Ballon d’Or in 2008 after Michael Owen. This was a season that was a testament to Ronaldo’s abilities to perform at his utmost optimum with no holds barred.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Paul Ellis