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Arsene Wenger has revealed that Cristiano Ronaldo came so close to signing for Arsenal he had even posed with the club’s shirt only for Manchester United to swoop in at the eleventh hour.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner moved to Old Trafford from Sporting in the summer of 2003 not long after a friendly against the Red Devils in which he impressed United’s players so much they urged Sir Alex Ferguson to sign him.
But Wenger claims it was the influence of United’s Portuguese assistant coach Carlos Queiroz – who had actually left the club briefly at the time to manage Real Madrid – who convinced Sir Alex to pay the £12.24million fee for Ronaldo.
‘He was very close to joining us,’ revealed Wenger on beIN SPORTS on Wednesday evening before Ronaldo’s current club Juventus suffered a surprise defeat to Porto in the Champions League.
‘The bad luck for us was that Carlos Queiroz joined Man United and in a week he persuaded Ferguson to buy Ronaldo – which was quite a good buy at the time!’
Wenger’s memory of how Arsenal missed out on Ronaldo does not entirely line up, with Queiroz joining United’s backroom team for one season in June 2002, over a year before the winger arrived at the club, and then returning in the summer of 2004 after leaving Real.
Expanding on his near misses in the transfer market, Wenger continued: ‘We speak about Ronaldo, he was at our training ground with our shirt.
‘We speak about [Kylian] Mbappe, I was at his home when he was undecided to extend his contract at Monaco, could have come to Arsenal for free!
‘But I would say every club is full of histories like that. You go to Milan, to Manchester, to Arsenal, to Chelsea, you have these kind of stories everywhere.’
Asked if he ever spoke to Lionel Messi’s parents about a move to Arsenal, Wenger added: ‘No, in fact we wanted to make the trio of [Cesc] Fabregas, Messi and [Gerard] Pique.
‘At the time, they were the ’87 generation, they played all together.
‘Pique played midfield at the time and he went to Man United, in the end he decided for Man United. Fabregas joined us and Barcelona were clever enough to keep Messi.’