Manchester United legend Paul Scholes has explained that the club was so close to signing Ronaldinho in the summer of 2003 that the Brazilian star had already been assigned a squad number, only for him to suddenly join Barcelona instead.
A World Cup winner in 2002, Ronaldinho was moving on from Paris Saint-Germain and United were leading the chase for his signature. Barcelona were also keen, while even Newcastle threw their hat in the ring having just finished third in the Premier League.
It was expected at the time that Ronaldinho would inherit United’s number seven shirt that had just been vacated when David Beckham left for Real Madrid.
Ronaldinho, who went on to win the Ballon d’Or and two FIFA World Player of the Year awards in the seasons that followed, joined Barcelona instead, but Scholes has lifted the lid on how last-minute the decision to go to Camp Nou and not Old Trafford was made.
“He was away on pre-season and we were as a close as announcing him and giving him a number but I think he ended up changing his mind at the last minute and signing for Barcelona,” Scholes recalled in a BBC interview with former United academy teammate Robbie Savage.
“It’s strange really because we played Barcelona on that pre-season tour,” he added.
“We were all excited – Ronaldinho, what a player! I think he was coming from PSG at the time and we were all going to get to play with him and he’s going to bring something special.
“Almost like what Eric Cantona brought to the team, then three days later, we’re playing against him and all trying to kick him because he didn’t sign for us.
“It was disappointing but I was lucky enough to play with some great players and he’d have just been another unbelievable player I’d had played with but it just never happened.”
Ronaldinho ended up being then Barcelona president Joan Laporta’s big marquee signing to kick off his time in office having just been elected. Laporta had earlier campaigned on a pledge to take the aforementioned Beckham to Catalonia instead and it might have been that United wouldn’t have had the same competition for Ronaldinho had the Barça chief got his way.
Later that summer, United landed a little known teenager by the name of Cristiano Ronaldo, handing him the number seven shirt instead. The club may well have pursued Ronaldo even if Ronaldinho had signed but the course of history would have been vastly altered.
Source : 90min