Now that his time with Arsenal is up, Arsene Wenger has been looking back on his 22 years at the Emirates. In an interview with the club’s official website, the former manager said that one of his biggest regrets from his time at Arsenal was their failure to land Cristiano Ronaldo when given the opportunity.
Wenger said that Arsenal failed to sign Cristiano Ronaldo as a teenager because the club refused to match the £12 million offer Manchester United sent to Sporting CP in exchange for the young star. Wenger added that Arsenal were close to nabbing the then-18-year-old Ronaldo back in 2003.
Wenger and Arsenal had a series of high-profile transfer acquisitions go wrong, with the club failing to land the likes of Gerard Pique and Lionel Messi in addition to Ronaldo. At the time, many sportsbooks suggested these stars could be joining the Emirates, however it could’ve led to quite a bad run if anyone were to place bets on that happening. While things worked out just fine for Wenger in the end, imagine if even one of these players had come to the Emirates.
He said, “He was here with his mother and we were very close. Then Man United came in and they had Carlos Queiroz at the time, who was their coach. United played against Sporting Lisbon and Ronaldo was outstanding and they signed him.”
Arsenal would go on to enjoy their unbeaten “invincible” campaign the following season while Ronaldo was beginning to establish himself as a star at United. Ronaldo’s emergence as a legitimate superstar helped United reel off three consecutive Premier league titles starting in 2006-07.
Wenger added, “There is always something you could have done differently, but the problem of negotiations is to know when you give in and when you don’t give in. Once we were at £4.5 million, we were still in negotiations. David met with [Jorge} Mendes in Paris and he was representing Sporting, so we were very close. But Man United went to £12 million, which we could not afford at the time.”
Ronaldo enjoyed several stellar seasons in Manchester before making a world-record move worth £80 million to join Spanish giants Real Madrid in 2009.
Arsenal have still not won the Premier League since that undefeated run in 2004, and Wenger believes things could have gone very differently had they landed Ronaldo instead.
The French manager said, “You could imagine at the time what it would have been like to have Thierry Henry and Ronaldo together. That would certainly have changed a little bit of history of my stay here as well.”
Wenger added that the club also made a run at luring Lionel Messi away from Barcelona at the same time Cesc Fabregas came to North London from the Barca academy, though the attempts to land Messi weren’t as serious as the Ronaldo negotiations.
He said, “The story of Cesc Fabregas is that [former scouts] Franny Cagiao and Steve Rowley brought the player here and we had to convince him. I met Cesc’s parents and at the time we were interested in Messi and [Gerard] Pique as well. We tried for the three but of course it didn’t work out, but we got a gem there in Cesc and he is an exceptional player. A brain for football.”
Wenger added that the agents proved to be the stumbling blocks in Arsenal’s pursuits of Messi and Pique. He said, “It didn’t work out with Messi and Pique because of the agents. I think it was linked with Nike at the time and they wanted Pique to go to Man United. With Messi, Barcelona didn’t want to lose him of course and they made the offer that was needed to keep the player at the club.”
Needless to say, things may have gone very differently if a few transfer decisions had gone Arsenal’s way during Wenger’s tenure.