The Best Premier League Transfers Ever: Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester United (2003/04)
Cristiano Ronaldo arrived at Manchester United as a skinny teenager with just one senior season under his belt, and understandably, nobody could have predicted what would follow after his £12m transfer from Sporting.
The talent and potential was clear for all to see, however.
The five-time Champions League winner is best known for his achievements post-United, but it was his time at Old Trafford that kickstarted his rise to the top of the sport, and his impact throughout his six-year spell in England is often underappreciated.
This article is part of FootballTransfers’ greatest-ever Premier League deals. We have selected just one standout transfer from every season of the Premier League, including two honourable mentions. This list will then be gathered to provide a definitive list of the best pieces of business in the Premier League era.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Sporting CP to Manchester United, £12m
The story of how Ronaldo earned his move to Man Utd after destroying John O’Shea in a friendly match is well documented. United were opening Sporting Lisbon’s new stadium when a supposedly jet-lagged O’Shea was given the run-around by a pacey and tricky teenager.
Sir Alex Ferguson was suitably impressed and acquired Ronaldo’s signature the same summer despite the youngster only having 31 first-team appearances to his name.
In Ronaldo’s first season on English shores, Arsenal went the entire league campaign unbeaten to achieve their ‘Invincibles’ crown, but the Portuguese forward did score in the FA Cup final as the Red Devils defeated Millwall at the Millennium Stadium.
Two more years passed before United were once again elevated to the top of the domestic scene thanks, in large part, to Ronaldo’s stardom.
Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea had dominated the Premier League from 2004/05 – 2005/06 and, when the talismanic manager departed Stamford Bridge, he made way for Man Utd to take over as the top flight’s most prevailing power.
His pace, power, skill and eye for goal made Ronaldo a nightmare for defenders and an impossible force to stop when in full flow.
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Ninety-one goals and 41 assists followed from 2006 to 2009 as Ronaldo fired United to three consecutive league titles, a Champions League crown, a Club World Club and a League Cup.
He elevated his game even further after moving to Real Madrid for a then world-record fee of £80m in the summer of 2009, but Ronaldo remains is one of the greatest imports the Premier League has ever seen.
Runners-up: Cesc Fabregas, Barcelona to Arsenal, free
Cesc Fabregas made the decision to leave his boyhood club Barcelona in 2003 at the age of 16 after graduating from the famous La Masia academy.
The then-teenager decided he would be more likely to receive first-team opportunities in north London rather than the Catalan capital and didn’t have to wait too long to be given his chance.
Fabregas made just three outings in his maiden campaign, all coming in the League Cup, although he did become the Gunners’ youngest-ever first-team player and goalscorer in the process.
After missing out on a Premier League winners medal due to making zero league appearances throughout Arsenal’s Invincible season, the midfield maestro took advantage of several injuries in Arsene Wenger’s squad to establish himself in the starting XI in 2004/05 and remained there until he departed seven years later.
The passing range, control over the centre of the park, technical ability and elegant nature that Fabregas exerted during his time at Highbury and then the Emirates Stadium personified Arsenal during this period.
Wenger was tasked with trying to maintain success while selling his star players meaning Fabregas only secured a solitary piece of silverware with the Gunners coming in the shape of the 2005 FA Cup trophy, however, his exemplary performances and 92 assists in 304 appearances in Arsenal colours established the Spaniard as one of the world’s greatest central midfielders and won admirers from far and wide.
Runners-up: Claude Makelele, Real Madrid to Chelsea, £18m
Having a position named after you is one of the greatest individual achievements a footballer can accomplish throughout their career. That is exactly what Claude Makelele achieved during his time at Chelsea.
The Frenchman was deemed surplus to requirements at Real Madrid as the Spanish giants were embarking on a new wave of Galactico signings, but it was a decision Los Blancos would live to regret.
Arriving for £18m in the summer of 2003, Makelele joined the Roman Abramovich revolution at Stamford Bridge and became an instant fan-favourite in west London.
Jose Mourinho joined the Blues a year later, and such was Makelele’s dominance over the defensive midfield position it was coined the ‘Makelele Role’ by English fans, pundits and media alike.
Under Mourinho and then Avram Grant’s stewardship, the diminutive midfield man played a pivotal part in Chelsea winning two Premier League titles, one FA Cup and two League Cups before departing for Paris Saint-Germain in 2008.
Makelele will always be remembered fondly for his full-blooded displays and ensured he’ll forever remain part of Premier League folklore by putting his name to his favoured position.