Sunday 17 February 2019

15 years on from United debut, Ronaldo magic holds key to Juve's lust for glory

Cristiano Ronaldo. Photo: AP
Cristiano Ronaldo. Photo: AP

Charlie Morgan

Today marks 15 years since Cristiano Ronaldo's Manchester United debut against Bolton Wanderers at Old Trafford in front of 67,647 people. The story may be familiar.

With Alex Ferguson's hosts leading 1-0 close to the hour mark, the 18-year-old replaced Nicky Butt. Having joined the club four days before with a weighty reputation and a €14m (£12.5m) price-tag, he wore the hallowed No 7 shirt that David Beckham had recently vacated.

His nest of dark, greasy hair was streaked with highlights, each one starchier than left-over spaghetti.

Wanderers right-back Nicky Hunt dispossessed Ronaldo with a robust tackle almost immediately, but from then on the new boy delighted Ferguson and United's fans.

He roamed the pitch, causing problems on either flank. He won a penalty and earned a congratulatory slap from Roy Keane as United went on to triumph 4-0.

Bolton manager Sam Allardyce had gleaned intelligence from his own new signing Mario Jardel, a former Sporting Lisbon team-mate of Ronaldo.

Afterwards, he admitted that Jardel's awed praise had been completely justified.

Allardyce seemed to gauge the significance of what he had just seen, immediately declaring: "He can go inside, outside. He uses both feet and runs at people. Everyone holds their breath when he has the ball."

Juventus tied down their major acquisition earlier in the summer. On July 10, they announced the arrival of Ronaldo from Real Madrid for €111m (£99.2m).

Last Sunday, with five Ballons d'Or and the same number of Champions League titles won, Ronaldo played his first match in a Juventus shirt. The scene could not have been more different to a packed, braying Old Trafford.

Villar Perosa is home to an estate owned by the Agnelli family who run Juventus and for 63 years, the small town, 50km south-west of Turin, has witnessed a match between the first team and the youth side - Juventus Primavera.

About 5,000 fans, 1,000 more than the population of Villar Perosa, get to watch. Tickets sell out rapidly.

"To play on the small field that experiences this glorious day makes for a moment of unity for everybody involved," said grizzled Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini.

Bianconeri icon Gianluigi Buffon, now at Paris St-Germain, saluted "a romantic side that survives, and we can't let go of it".

This year, cars queued outside Villar Perosa six hours before the 5.0pm kick-off.

Ronaldo started, and scored within eight minutes of a 5-0 win for Massimiliano Allegri's seniors.

Tradition dictates that a peaceful second-half pitch invasion ends this game. Players donate their kit to spectators on the run, weaving through admirers in their underpants.

The occasion shows the importance of fostering and maintaining a tangible connection between players and fans in professional sport.

But the weekend mixes adulation with cold, hard expectation, as Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli laid out the season's aims.

"This year, we really have to set ourselves the target of winning everything," Agnelli told the squad last weekend.

In 15 years, Ronaldo has developed from precocious teenager into prolific champion. Agnelli and Juventus want to ride that wave. (© The Daily Telegraph).

Telegraph.co.uk

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