Liverpool passed on the opportunity to sign Cristiano Ronaldo before he joined Manchester United because Gerard Houllier thought it would “cause problems” in the dressing room.
Ronaldo joined Manchester United from Sporting Lisbon in the summer of 2003 for £12 million and as we all know, would go on to become one of the best players in world football.
His journey, however, could have been very different as former Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier once detailed that the club’s wage structure was the reason behind their failure to land the teenager in 2003.
“I saw him in the Toulon Under-21 tournament and we went for him,” Houllier said back in 2017. “But we had a wage scale and we weren’t paying the sort of salary he wanted.
“Then Manchester United played a friendly against Sporting Lisbon and all their boys said to Sir Alex Ferguson: ‘You have to sign him’. But I agreed with not breaking the wage structure. I thought it would cause problems in our dressing room.”
Liverpool would instead go on to sign Harry Kewell from Leeds in July 2003.
“Maybe we would have won the title with Ronaldo, but we had Harry Kewell, who was outstanding at the time and was very hungry but got a bad injury,” Houllier added.
“After that, he never had the same confidence, the same appetite.”
Phil Thompson, who was Houllier’s assistant at the time, has previously touched on Florent Sinama Pongolle and Anthony Le Tallec’s contract situation at Anfield, which impacted their move for Ronaldo.
“We had just signed Florent Sinama Pongolle and Anthony Le Tallec, both on far less than Ronaldo’s aspirations,” he said.
“And we would have had anarchy if the other players had found out how much we were considering paying for an 18-year-old kid.”
Thompson added: “We looked for a compromise. Ten days later I was sitting in a lounge at Anfield having some lunch and looking at the big TV screen.
“Up came the news United had signed Ronaldo from Lisbon for £12.2m. Gerard and myself nearly choked on our food.”
Arsenal were also close to signing Ronaldo that summer, with an £8 million fee being agreed between the Gunners and Sporting Lisbon.
The player and his mother, Dolores, flew to London where they were introduced to Thierry Henry and other Arsenal players.
Arsene Wenger even spoke to Ronaldo in his office and even promised him the shirt number he wanted at Arsenal but a move to Manchester United would play out soon after and the rest is history.