Liverpool missed the chance to take Cristiano Ronaldo to Anfield during the scramble for his signature in 2003, says Phil Thompson, with Manchester United swooping in as the Reds mulled over their options. A highly-rated Portuguese forward was generating plenty of interest after bursting onto the scene at Sporting.
Several Premier League sides took the opportunity to cast an eye over Ronaldo’s potential, with Thompson sent on a scouting mission while working as assistant to Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier. The Reds legend was impressed by what he saw but was unable to commit to the financial package on the table. As those back at Anfield weighed up the merits of a move for a then unproven teenager, United seized the initiative and invested heavily in a man who has gone on to claim five Ballons d’Or and cement a standing as an all-time great.
Reflecting on what could have been, Thompson told The Athletic: “He was being touted around everyone. “Tony Henry, the former Man City midfielder, was working for (agent) Paul Stretford, who was tasked by Jorge Mendes to drum up interest in England. “They were desperate to get Ronaldo out of Sporting and invited me over for a game. I was told the fee was £4 million but they explained that it could be paid over the course of a four-year contract so essentially it was £1 million per year. “I asked what kind of salary he would want and they said it was £1 million per year after tax. That was a lot for an 18-year-old kid but they said that was negotiable. “It was a Sunday and I explained to them that I needed to go back to Liverpool and speak to Gerard Houllier and see what we could do. I fed all the information back to Gerard, who said he would speak to [chief executive] Rick Parry. “Lo and behold, the following week I’m at Melwood when the yellow ticker on Sky Sports News says, ‘Manchester United sign Cristiano Ronaldo from Sporting for £12.2 million.’ I couldn’t believe my eyes. “How had the fee gone up from £4 million to £12.2 million in a few days? Gerard asked me to phone Tony to find out what had gone on. Tony told me that when he’d got off the plane on Monday he had got a call to say he was off the deal. It was down to Stretford and Mendes instead.
“It was astonishing that the fee trebled. He was clearly a big talent but no one could have predicted back then how great he was going to be.” Thompson has also revealed that Liverpool were considering a move for Chelsea stalwart John Terry before the arrival of Roman Abramovich’s billions at Stamford Bridge scuppered those plans. He added on the iconic Blues defender: “Chelsea were in financial trouble at the time and John hadn’t signed a new contract. “Gerard said to me, ‘What do you think?’ I said he would be perfect. John was still only a young lad but he was fantastic. He wasn’t blessed with great pace but he read the game so well and was clearly going to be a top center-half. “After the game Gerard had a quiet word with John and asked if he’d like to play for Liverpool. The response was positive. “Gerard sent [director of scouting] Alex Miller to get his agent’s details and he came back from the players’ lounge with John’s mobile number. “Then a few weeks later Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea and suddenly they had all this money. John and Frank Lampard both got big new contracts.”