On June 11th 2009, Real Madrid announced that they had reached an agreement over the transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United for a then world record fee of 80 million pounds.
It was move that stunned the footballing world, as Real Madrid basked in the glory of capturing the 2008 Ballon d’Or winner. Ronaldo headed their ‘Galactico’ project as the new club President Florentino Perez proudly announced a new dawn for the famous old club.
While many people wondered if any footballer could justify such a steep price tag, Ronaldo has defied all odds and achieved things that even Real Madrid could not have foreseen all those years ago.
Ronaldo has won two la liga title, two FIFA World Club Cups, two Copa Del Ray titles, two European Supercups and three Champions League titles during his eight years with the club.
On a personal level, Ronaldo has won three more Ballon d’Or awards and has become the greatest goal scorer in Real Madrid history.
But it could have been all so different, as a series of events from December 2008 to February 2009 almost ended Ronaldo’s Real Madrid dream before it even began.
Champions League final 2008
Walking towards the penalty spot in Moscow, Ronaldo knew that his incredible tally of goals in the season would count for little, if he failed to beat Petr Cech from 12 yards out.
The referee blew the whistle, Ronaldo stuttered and saw his tame shot easily saved by the Chelsea keeper.
As the rain poured down at the Luzhniki stadium, Ronaldo covered his face in agony as he wondered why he had to be the one who missed. In spite of scoring 42 goals in the season, he believed that he had just cost his club one of the biggest victories in its glorious history.
Ten minutes, a Terry slip and a Van der Sar save later, Ronaldo was in tears again. But this time it were tears of joy as Manchester United secured only their third Champions league triumph in history.
For Ronaldo, it was the end of a chapter. A wonderful chapter for sure, but one that he had to end if he wanted to fulfill his ambition. He had conquered England, but now had to conquer the world.
In the mixed zone after the final, Ronaldo had decided that he wanted to leave the club and knew where he wanted to go.
The Summer of 2008
After being knocked out of the Euros by Germany, Ronaldo was heading towards the mixed zone when he made these particular comments about his future.
“I have a dream. Not all dreams come true, but I want this one to. Everyone knows what I want. I hope things can get resolved over the summer. I will always be grateful for Manchester United.”
This was something more like a goodbye speech rather than someone trying to deflect rumours about his future.
Ronaldo and his agent Jorge Mendes had decided that Real Madrid was Cristiano’s next club, and they would force through a move this summer.
Amidst all the media speculation, Alex Ferguson flew down to Portugal and held crisis talks with Ronaldo and his agent. Ferguson maintained that United would not sell Ronaldo to Madrid at any cost this season.
“I’d rather shoot you than sell you to that them now. If I do that, all my honour has gone, everything’s gone for me, and I don’t care if you have to sit in the stands. I know it won’t come to that, but I just have to tell you that I won’t let you leave this year.”
A gentlemen’s agreement was finally reached between Ronaldo and Ferguson. If Ronaldo stayed for another year, and if any club came in for a world record bid for him next summer, then United would let him go.
This had to be documented of course. Ferguson passed on the details to the CEO David Gill, who took care of the paperwork. They even warned Ronaldo that such details should not be leaked, otherwise the agreement would be off.
But leaked it did.
After his meeting with Ferguson, Ronaldo spoke to the Real Madrid President Roman Calderon and said that the deal was off for this summer.
“President, you have to forgive me. I know we’d said that I’d come to Real Madrid this year, but I can’t. Ferguson has asked me to stay, the club has asked me to stay. I have many things to thank Manchester United, the fans and Ferguson himself for. He’s like a father to me. So I can’t join this year, but we’re going to arrange everything for next season.’
As per Guillem Balague’s book on Cristiano Ronaldo, a pre-agreement was reached between Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo. It was a private and confidential agreement that was signed by both parties in November 2008.
Ronaldo was Calderon’s dream signing. He wanted to bring Ronaldo and appease the fans and certain sections of the media who had started calling for his head. Most importantly, he knew that signing Ronaldo would mean that he would have a great chance at extending his tenure as the Real Madrid President.
But Florentino Perez wanted to return to Madrid and started putting the wheels in motion behind the scenes. He based his campaign on the promise of bringing in the Galactico era at the club.
That is why a Ronaldo signing would have acted as a hammer blow to his Presidential campaign, as it would prove that Calderon was also capable of bringing in the very best players in the world to Madrid.
Then all of a sudden, every media outlet claimed that Ronaldo was going to leave Manchester United and join Real Madrid for 80 million pounds in the summer.
Perez had to act quickly, and so he used his considerable media contacts to report that Madrid were signing Kaka instead of Ronaldo. This was too much for Calderon, as he resigned from his post on January 16 2009.
Two weeks later, the Marca reported that Real Madrid had a verbal contract agreed with both Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ferguson : “Ronaldo is not going anywhere”
The moment Ronaldo’s pre agreement was leaked, Ferguson had informed Jorge Mendes and Real Madrid that he was no longer going to sell Ronaldo to Madrid. The agreement had a confidentiality clause, which if broken would make the agreement invalid.
At the same time, several members in the Real Madrid hierarchy were not happy at the prospect of spending 94 million euros on a single player. The fact that there were very few Spanish players in the Real Madrid squad also added fuel to the fire.
So Real Madrid contacted Jorge Mendes and told them they are willing to cancel the agreement and pay the 30 million euros in compensation. Mendes shockingly agreed and informed them that his lawyer would fly down and finalize the details tomorrow.
So why did Mendes suddenly agree?
Because Real Madrid’s was not the only world record bid that was submitted to Manchester United that winter. Manchester City had bid 150 million euros while FC Barcelona bid 105 million euors for the United’s number seven.
While Ronaldo’s agreement with Real Madrid had been violated, his pact with Ferguson was still on. The United boss was still willing to sell Ronaldo to any club, as long as a world record bid had come for him. And two other bids did come.
Mendes was happy to let Ronaldo go to either City or Barcelona. Due to the rivalry that existed between the two clubs, Ferguson did not want to sell Ronaldo to City, which was why he was pushing for a sale to Barcelona.
The moment that Madrid realized that Ronaldo was on his way to Barcelona, the chiefs sprung into action and decided they had to get Ronaldo at all costs.
Perez, who got on well with Ferguson, called him and told that he was ready to pay the initially quoted figure and apologized for the media and the former President’s role in creating an uncomfortable situation for Manchester United.
Ronaldo himself wanted to go to Real Madrid. His mother has a soft spot for Real Madrid, which also played on Cristiano’s mind. His asked Ferguson to forget everything and let him realize his and his mother’s dream of playing for Real Madrid.
Ferguson relented and let Ronaldo go.
Champions League final 2009
Manchester United players have a strict protocol and are required to represent the club in an appropriate manner off the field. After the Champions league final defeat to Barcelona in 2009, the United players were seen leaving the stadium in a full formal outfit, as per club policy.
Every member of the side wore a tie, except for Cristiano Ronaldo. He had unbuttoned his shirt and wore shades on his way back to the team bus.
In his mind, he was no longer a Manchester United player anymore.
The Summer of 2009
In the summer of 2009, Real Madrid signed Ronaldo for a world record fee.
Barcelona spent a majority of their ‘Ronaldo fund’ on Zlatab Ibrahimovic. Manchester City spent millions in building their squad, with the most notable acquisition being the one of Carlos Tevez from Manchester United.
In 2013, David Moyes informed Jorge Mendes that Manchester United were willing to pay a world record fee to bring back Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo used this as bait in order to sign a new contract with Real Madrid, making him the highest paid player in the world.
Today, Ronaldo is the favourite to win a fifth Ballon d’Or and match Lionel Messi. If things had worked out differently, they might have been preparing to play the next season for Barcelona.