Legend has it that it was Sir Alex Ferguson’s own Manchester United players who persuaded the record-breaking former manager to sign Cristiano Ronaldo. “You’ve got to get him, boss,” they told the 13-time league champion after losing 3-1 to a Ronaldo-inspired Sporting Lisbon in a preseason friendly in 2003.
Of course, Ferguson was not a man to be forced into anything, and much of the due diligence had already been done. Still, it was that night in Lisbon which had put the seal on the storied manager’s decision to sign the 18-year-old Portuguese for 15 million euros.

Six years on, Ronaldo was the biggest thing in football. A record of 118 goals in 282 games in Manchester United colors, including 42 in 49 in a Ballon d’Or-clinching 2007-08 campaign, persuaded Real Madrid to part with a world-record 94 million euro fee to blast him even further into super stardom.

But winding back to 2003, nobody appeared to know at the time that Ronaldo very nearly hadn’t played in that friendly against United. It could have been Marcelo Salas wearing the green and white hoops instead, if only Juventus had had its way.

During that same summer, the Bianconeri had made their move for Ronaldo. Indeed, they had a deal agreed, according to former director-general Luciano Moggi.

Moggi told Sphera Sports: “We had everything signed with Sporting Lisbon. We had agreed a swap deal with Cristiano in exchange for Marcelo Salas, who accepted the move, then went to Portugal for talks, but eventually backed out of the deal and chose to go to Argentina with River Plate instead.”

Juve knew that Salas was the club's only real hope of making the swap deal happen due to a lack of funds in the coffers, but the Chilean had made up his mind and South America was his destination, leaving Ronaldo at a loose end in Lisbon.