Liverpool bosses Gerard Houllier and Phil Thompson “almost choked” on their dinner when Cristiano Ronaldo signed for Manchester United.
The Reds were convinced that they had already convinced the young Portuguese winger to sign for Liverpool in a deal worth just £4million back in 2003.
Ronaldo had been flourishing in Lisbon with Sporting, and the teenager’s reputation was growing after a number of dazzling displays.
Thompson has recalled going out for dinner with football agent Tony Henry in the Portuguese capital, where the pair thrashed out the finer details of a transfer.
However, it was a deal that would never come to fruition.
He told The Athletic: “I can still remember Tony’s exact words.
“It was all very nice and relaxed. It’s £4million and it can be paid over the four years of his contract, so £1million a year. That seemed very reasonable.
“Then I asked about the salary and Tony told me it was £1 million a year, net.”
Unbeknown to Liverpool, Sir Alex Ferguson had also got wind of the football prodigy and was working hard behind the scenes to make a transfer happen.
United faced Sporting in a pre-season friendly where Ronaldo shone, convincing Ferguson to get a deal laid out there and then.
And just like that, from under Liverpool’s noses, Ferguson convinced Ronaldo to snub Liverpool – and all the other clubs on his tail – and join the Red Devils.
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 £12.2million.’
“Gerard and myself almost choked on our food. I can remember Gerard jumping up and saying, ‘What the hell has gone on there?'”
Liverpool’s loss would prove to be United’s game, with Ronaldo enjoying six trophy-laden years in Manchester before joining Real Madrid in 2009.
After breaking all scoring records at the Santiago Bernabeu, he joined Juventus in 2018, before the five-time Ballon d’Or winner elected to return to Old Trafford in the summer of 2021.