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Remembering Man United XI from Ronaldo’s iconic 2003 debut against Newcastle

Cristiano Ronaldo will make his second debut for Manchester United this weekend. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner made a sensational return to the club this summer.

Ronaldo has cemented his status as one of the game’s greatest players in a record-breaking career, with his path to superstar accelerating over six seasons with the Red Devils.

Ronaldo came as an unproven teenage talent and immediately made an impact with a dazzling performance as a second-half replacement during a clash against Bolton in August 2003.

Before his second debut against Newcastle, we look back on the Manchester United XI of Ronaldo’s first appearance.

Goalkeeper: Tim Howard

Howard signed with Manchester United that summer and impressed during his early appearances, including saving the crucial penalty kick when Arsenal were beaten in the Community Shield.

He made 77 appearances in all competitions for the club but struggled for confidence in the latter part of his tenure with the club after making a mistake in the 2003/04 Champions League knockout of the Red Devils against Porto.

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The US international moved to Everton on loan in 2006 and spent a decade at Goodison Park, playing 354 league games for the Toffees – a club record in the Premier League era.

Right-Back: Phil Neville

Phil Neville represented, in the absence of Brother Gary, right-back, one of several players collectively known as the “Class of” 92 after emerging from the ranks of the Red Devils.

Neville proved to be an invaluable option during his 386 appearances for the club as the former England international played both a full-back and midfield position due to his versatility.

He won six league titles before moving to Everton in search of a more prominent role, eventually capturing the Toffees and making 303 appearances for the club in all competitions.

He has been coaching since retirement, spending some time at Manchester United under David Moyes while he is now the head coach of David Beckham’s MLS franchise Inter Miami.

Center-back: Rio Ferdinand

Manchester United broke the British transfer record with Rio Ferdinand von Leeds and made the England international the most expensive defender in the world for the second time in his career.

That investment was confirmed when Ferdinand established himself as one of the greatest center-backs of all time in the Premier League.

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Ronaldo played more games alongside Ferdinand (221) than any other team-mate during his first term at Old Trafford.

Center-back: Mikael Silvestre

Mikael Silvestre, who spent nearly a decade with the Red Devils, was another player whose versatility made him a respected squad who was as comfortable a left-back as he was a central role.

Signed for United from Inter Milan in 1999, Silvestre was part of a team that dominated the Premier League in the 2000s and won seven major honors before playing at Arsenal for two seasons.

Left-Back: Quinton Fortune

After spending some time in the Tottenham academy system as a youth, Fortune signed with Manchester United in the late 1990s after a brief stint with Atletico Madrid.

Predominantly a midfielder, he was often used as a left-back due to the numerous competition for places in the engine room of the Red Devils, although he was only used sporadically during seven seasons at Old Trafford.






His lack of appearances meant that Fortune could not win a medal for the Premier League winner despite his participation in three title-winning teams, despite receiving a medal due to special dispensation after nine appearances in the 2002/03 season.

Right winger: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came over £ 1.5million from Molde in 1996 and is one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s smartest deals, the striker who played a prominent role in the club’s successes over the next decade.

The Norwegian is a center-forward with a clinical grade and was often used as a “super sub” before operating on the right side for a while.

“The Baby-faced Assassin” achieved legendary status after taking his last breath in the 1999 Champions League final to seal a historic triple, one of 126 goals he scored for the Red Devils in all competitions.

Once a former Ronaldo team-mate, he will now be his job as his coach at Old Trafford to get the most out of the Portuguese captain.

Midfield: Roy Keane

One of the most influential footballers in Manchester United and Premier League history, Ronaldo stepped into a locker room led by Roy Keane in 2003.

The former Irish international was a combative midfielder and inspiring captain. He won 17 trophies with the Red Devils as the driving force of the club in a dominant era.

Probably his best season was 1999/2000 when he was named PFA Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year, after leading United to the title by a record point gap at the time.

Midfield: Nicky Butt

Butt was the club’s second member of the ’92’ class to face Bolton and was the player who made Ronaldo’s unforgettable entry into English football.

The midfielder progressed through the Academy ranks before joining the team that dominated the Premier League’s early seasons, playing 386 games and winning six league titles.

He went in search of more regular first-team football in 2004 and signed for Newcastle a short time ago in Birmingham City.

Butt has spent some time on United’s coaching staff since retiring, leaving a position as head of first-team development at the club in March 2021.

Left winger: Ryan Giggs

Ryan Giggs scored two goals when Ronaldo’s first game ended in a 4-0 win. His first appearance after stepping up in the absence of the recently retired David Beckham to bow a great free kick behind Jääskeläinen.

Giggs scored a close-range second to double the lead when Ronaldo’s introduction helped the Red Devils take the game out of Bolton before they were substituted on 10 minutes from time.

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After an incredible one-club career at Old Trafford, he retired as the most decorated player in British football history, winning 13 league titles and two Champions League trophies among his record-breaking collection of honors.

Midfield attack: Paul Scholes

By the time the exciting debutant was presented, Scholes was arguably the best player on the field and started in an advanced role as a support for the striker.

The English midfielder had had the most successful season of his career in this role, having scored 20 goals in all competitions in 2002/03 when the Red Devils won the Premier League title.

Scholes – who rounded the goalkeeper to score United’s third against Bolton – managed to establish himself as one of the most gifted English footballers of all time, with only Giggs making more appearances than Scholes in a United shirt.

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After winning eleven league titles, he retired as the best English footballer of all time.

Striker: Ruud van Nistelrooy

Van Nistelrooy, Manchester United’s most important man at the time of Ronaldo’s arrival, had an explosive start to his career in English football.

The Dutchman was named PFA Player of the Season in his first season before scoring 44 goals in all competitions in the 2002/03 season – a record for a Premier League player that remains to this day.

Van Nistelrooy missed a penalty won by Ronaldo in defeating Bolton but made it up after scoring a forceful finish for the fourth time.

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He scored 150 goals for the Red Devils in just 215 games in five seasons, but an argument with the young Ronaldo contributed to his departure from Real Madrid.

Replacement: Cristiano Ronaldo (for Nicky Butt, 61)

Ronaldo’s introduction helped turn a tedious performance into a dazzling attack feat that consistently contributed to a memorable debut for the teenager.

The winger with the sparkling toes presented the club’s famous number seven jersey and caused havoc on his first appearance in the famous shirt to give Bolton’s full-back a heated time.

Ronaldo’s debut was the first glimpse of a player who would become one of the best in the world in six seasons at Manchester United, inspiring the team to three consecutive league titles between 2007 and 2009.

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The second of these came alongside the Champions League success, with Ronaldo scooping a first Ballon d’Or after a great 42-goal campaign.

Replacement: Eric Djemba Djemba (For Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, 67)

The club’s third Premier League debutant, Djemba Djemba was seen as a potential successor to Roy Keane after arriving from Nantes.

The Cameroon international proved far from however, making only 20 league appearances for the club before moving to Aston Villa, where his fortune did not improve.


Replacement: Diego Forlan (For Ryan Giggs, 80)

Diego Forlan’s career at Manchester United represented a case in point, what could have been as the striker largely failed to get to his feet before shining on his exit.

Despite his fights in the Premier League, the Uruguayan became a popular figure on the terraces, with support from the Red Devils praising his admirable job performance.

Forland scored just 17 goals in 98 games before moving to Villarreal where he became one of the deadliest brands in Europe.

The striker scored 25 goals in his debut season, making it Europe’s top scorer before winning the second Golden Boot in Europe in 2008-09 after a successful season with Atletico Madrid.

Read – PL Icons: Reminder of how good Cristiano Ronaldo was for Manchester United in 2007/08

Read also – Opinion: Ronaldo’s return to Man United shows once again that football has become a joyless world

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