In football, sometimes you have to take a step back and just applaud, even if you are watching an opposing player take apart your own team.
That is exactly what Manchester United fans did on 23 April 2003 when Ronaldo – O Fenomeno, and the subject of DAZN‘s documentary ‘Ronaldo: El Presidente’ – scored a sublime hat-trick for Real Madrid at Old Trafford.
Soon after his hat-trick goal and with Real leading 6-3 on aggregate, job done to progress to the Champions League semi-finals, Ronaldo was withdrawn by coach Vicente del Bosque.
As he left the pitch, the Brazilian was greeted by the home fans inside Old Trafford rising to their feet and applauding. They knew they had just witnessed a truly great individual performance from a genuine legend of the game and showed their appreciation accordingly.
At that time, Ronaldo was still only 26 but had achieved so much in his career. He was a double FIFA World Player of the Year by the time he was 21 and had won his third in 2002, as well as two Ballon d’Or awards. He had been utterly frightening in his late teens and early 20s, only to then effectively lose three years to career threatening knee injuries.
But Ronaldo had completed his redemption at the 2002 World Cup, eradicating his own demons from the 1998 final when he suffered a mystery seizure a few hours before the game, and proved to everyone that, somehow after everything, he was still as good as he was before.
When Ronaldo lined up against Manchester United in 2003, it was coming towards the end of his first with Real Madrid, a campaign that ultimately yielded 30 goals in all competitions – his first time above 15 since before his injury troubles had set in.
Real led 3-1 from the first leg of the tie in Madrid thanks to an early goal from Luis Figo and two from Raul. An away goal from Ruud van Nistelrooy gave United a glimmer of hope for mounting an aggregate comeback in the second leg, only for Ronaldo to completely kill them off.
Ronaldo’s first goal came after just 12 minutes, running off the shoulder of his marker onto a diagonal through pass and firing first time back across goal from the corner of the penalty area.
United got back level on the night just before half-time, but Ronaldo extended Real’s aggregate lead again soon after half-time. This time it was the goal of a true penalty area striker, turning in a low cross from Roberto Carlos six yards out.
The hat-trick goal was the best of the lot. Ronaldo received the ball in the middle of the United half, drove forward and then unleashed a powerful strike from 25 yards that flashed into the far corner.
Real led 3-2 on the night and 6-3 on aggregate at that stage, with three away goals giving them an additional cushion. Even a late flurry from United inspired by David Beckham, who would become Ronaldo’s teammate at the Bernabeu within a matter of weeks, was too little too late.
Ronaldo walking off the pitch in Manchester to that standing ovation has become one of the all-time iconic Champions League moments. Sir Alex Ferguson called the performance ‘marvellous’.
Beckham recalled: “The whole crowd got to their feet and gave the bloke the kind of ovation a United player would have got. The Manchester crowd knows its football and knew they’d been privileged to be there, watching Ronaldo play. I felt really proud of them in a different way that night, watching their reaction as Ronaldo walked off with his hands above his head, clapping back.”
Ronaldo is currently the focus of the brand new documentary series, ‘Ronaldo- El Presidente’. Having taken his talents from the pitch to the boardroom, the show follows his life as owner and president of Real Valladolid. You can watch the six-part series exclusively on DAZN now.