The Magnificent Sevens - Beckham and Ronaldo
While Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge of Manchester United, the 2003/2004 season was a massive one. The Red Devils managed to finish third in the league. Arsenal won the league, becoming the Invincibles with their 26 wins and 12 draws, with Chelsea finishing four points ahead of United in second. The club also only managed to reach the fourth round of the League Cup, losing 2-0 to West Bromwich Albion, a week after needing extra-time to finish off rivals Leeds United, with Eric Djemba-Djemba scoring the dying minutes of the game. In the Champions League, after finishing top of the table losing just one game, the Reds fell at the Last 16, losing to FC Porto across the two legs. However, in the FA Cup Fergie had more success. They had beaten both Manchester City and Arsenal, and had booked their place in the final against Millwall, in which they secured a comfortable 3-0 win, becoming winners of the FA Cup.
Despite their FA Cup success, Sir Alex didn't have an eventful season because of results. You could say, that Sir Alex had an eventful summer. Stars were sold, and stars were bought. Juan Sebastien Veron was off to Chelsea for £15 million the week before the season kicked-off, and just two days later youngster Jimmy Davis was involved in a fatal car accident, pronounced dead at the scene. It was a day that shook football fans around the world, who all came together for that one day, to pay respects to the striker. One month before, as soon as the transfer window opened, Ferguson announced a controversial sale. Ferguson's relationship with a player had deteriorated, with kicked boots causing injury. On the 2nd July, David Beckham became a Real Madrid player, for a fee of £17.25 million.
After selling numerous players out to big sides, Sir Alex dipped into the market too. David Bellion and Eric Djemba-Djemba signed soon after the opening of the transfer window, with Tim Howard the next to join. Kleberson, possibly the next Brazilian sensation joined, but soon flopped in England. Gabriel Heinze signed from PSG, and £7 million was spent to bring Alan Smith to Manchester from rival side Leeds. Dong Fangzhou made the move from China to join United, where he would play just once. However, David Beckham was not the only player to bring drama to Old Trafford. On the 12th August, Fergie announced a new signing. He was a young right-midfielder, possibly bought in to replace Beckham. It was a big risk for the Scot, as he paid quite a large fee for a player who no-one knew about and had awful hair. However, the £12.25 million would turn out to be one of the greatest £12.25 million's spent in football. As Sir Alex Ferguson had bought Cristiano Ronaldo.
David Beckham had joined Manchester United as a kid, and first became noticed in the FA Youth Cup of 1992. In the final, Manchester United played Crystal Palace. The final was played across two legs, home and away, and the Reds fielded a side full of future stars. Gary Neville captained the side, with both Nicky Butt and David Beckham playing in midfield. Robbie Savage completed the line-up wearing the number ten shirt upfront. In the first leg, Beckham grabbed a goal, with Nicky Butt scoring two, giving United a 3-1 advantage with the second leg at home. Beckham wasn't able to score in the second leg, but played a big part in winning 3-2, with a 6-3 aggregate victory. Beckham made his first appearance for the first team later that year, and signed a professional contract shortly after. David spent one year on loan to Preston North End to gain experience, and when he returned, made his Premier League debut in 1995.
Beckham became part of the group known as 'Fergie's Fledglings', the players under Ferguson who had developed through the youth academy, joining Nicky Butt, the Neville brothers, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, who all went on to be United legends. Once playing more for the reds, Beckham swiftly established himself as the clubs right-sided midfielder, helping the club with both the Premier League and FA Cup in his first season as a regular. At the beginning of the 1996–97 season David Beckham was given the number 10 shirt that had most recently been worn by Mark Hughes, and later became known for his exceptional goal against Wimbledon. With United leading 2–0, Beckham noticed that Wimbledon's goalkeeper Neil Sullivan was standing a long way out of his goal, and hit a shot from the halfway line that floated over the goalkeeper and into the net.
In May 1997, Eric Cantona retired. Cantona had been one of the many greats to wear the number seven shirt for Manchester United, something prized among the club. George Best, Bryan Robson and Steve Coppell had all worn the shirt before Cantona, and now, it was Beckham's turned to wear the coveted shirt. It was the moment Beckham was established as a Manchester great. Beckham became part of the team that won the treble in 1999, a unique feat in England, and continued to wow fans across the globe. The Champions League Final was a big game for him. Beckham played centre-midfield in United's win over Bayern, since United's first choice centre-midfielders Paul Scholes and Roy Keane were suspended for the match. United were losing the match 1–0 at the end of normal time, but won the trophy by scoring two goals in injury time, with both goals coming from corners taken by Beckham.
However, by the 2000s, David's relationship with manager Ferguson had begun to deteriorate, with suggestions of the overwhelming fame affecting David too much both on and off the pitch. Nevertheless, Beckham had a good season and helped United win the league with record points. In 2002, David was injured during a Champions League match against Deportivo La Coruña, breaking the second metatarsal bone in his left foot. There was speculation in the British media that the injury might have been caused deliberately, with upcoming World Cup matches. Beckham was out for the season, and when recovered from his injury, failed to get back into the side, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer having replaced him. In February 2003, Beckham was hit by a boot thrown or kicked by Ferguson, causing a cut about his eye needing stitches. The incident led to a lot of transfer speculation, and eventually he moved to Real Madrid when the transfer window opened, after Barcelona had announced an agreement had already been made for the England international.
David Beckham became a great for Manchester United, and after playing for Real Madrid, LA Galaxy, AC Milan and a season with French giants PSG, has once again been able to put on a United shirt. David was released from his contract with PSG, and David Moyes immediately snapped at the opportunity to bring 'Golden Balls' home, once again, 10 years on. A lot has happened in the 10 years David has spent away from the club, but he will be expected to be in some top performances again for United, and positive signs have been seen during pre-season. Although he now has his preferred number 23 shirt, David will always be one of the magnificent seven of Manchester United, as will Portugese winger Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo was something of an unknown player when he signed for United from Sporting Lisbon, a risky signing in the eyes of many. He became the first Portugese player to ever sign for Manchester United, which has since led to the signings of wingers Nani and Bebe, and also young goalkeeper Joel Castro Pereira, a favourite of new boss David Moyes. Cristiano didn't want the pressure of the number seven shirt, and wanted his 28 from Sporting. Nevertheless, Fergie refused, gave him the number seven and made him live up to the standards. And living up to the standards was done very well. In his first season, he scored an outstanding free-kick against Portsmouth, also his first goal for the club, and also scored the first goal in the FA Cup Final against Millwall. Soon after, he scored United's 1000th Premier League goal on 29 October 2005 in a 4–1 loss to Middlesbrough, and scored ten goals across the season, a respected figure for such a new, young talent.
The 2006/2007 season was the big one for Cristiano, which led to his breakthrough for United. Aged just 21, Ronaldo broke the 20 goal barrier and also won the Premier League for the first time. In November and December 2006, Ronaldo received consecutive Barclays Player of the Month honours, becoming only the third player in Premier League history to do so, and then scored his 50th club goal against city rivals Manchester City on 5 May 2007 as United claimed their first Premier League title in four years. Rumours first arose at the end of the season, linking CR7 to Real Madrid in a massive £54 million move. Despite this, he signed a new five year extension, becoming the highest-paid player in the club's history. Ronaldo was amassed with individual awards at the end of the season, and was now known by everyone around the world as a superstar.
Cristiano had become one of the magnificent seven after taking over from David Beckham, and would score and assist goal after goal for the club. In 2008 'Ronnie' captained United for the first time, in a home win against Bolton Wanderers, scoring both goals in a 2-0 victory. The second of the goals was his 33rd of the campaign, which set a new club single-season scoring record by a midfielder and thus topped George Best's forty-year-old total of 32 goals in the 1967–68 season. In the 2007–08 Champions League final in May against league rivals Chelsea, Ronaldo scored the opening goal after 26 minutes, but later missed his penalty in the dreaded penalty shootout, which United went on to win. Ronaldo was named the UEFA Fans' Man of the Match and ended his campaign with 42 goals throughout the season.
In the summer of 2008 Ronaldo admitted he would be interested in a possible move to Real Madrid, which disheartened Manchester United fans everywhere. Speculation that a transfer would happen continued until 6 August, when Ronaldo confirmed that he would stay at United for at least another year. In November that year he scored his 100th United goal against Stoke City, as well as his 101th, both from free-kicks. Later that season Ronaldo participated in his second consecutive Champions League final, but made little impact in United's 2–0 loss to Barcelona.
Then in June 2009 Manchester United accepted the staggering £80 million offer from Real Madrid for the wing wizard, as Ronaldo once again expressed his desire to leave the club. Once his move was completed, he expressed his gratitude to then current boss Alex Ferguson, who had given Ronaldo the opportunity and helped him develop as a player. When Cristiano made the move, he became the most expensive footballer in the world breaking the world transfer fee. Ronaldo continued to perform to a very high standard in Spain, often in competition with Barcelona's Lionel Messi about who really was the best player in the world.
During the 2012/2013 campaign Ronaldo often complained he was unhappy at Real Madrid, and later told the media that his heart was still in Manchester. David Moyes soon said bringing Cristiano back to Old Trafford would interest him, but he felt the Glazer's would not allow such a transfer, meaning finance would be an issue in order to bring him back to Manchester. Ronaldo has been linked back to Manchester numerous times lately, where fans still love and praise Ronaldo for all he did during his time at the club, certainly becoming a legend fit to wear the coveted number seven shirt. A move back to Old Trafford could cost United up to and including £100 million, so the deal may have to wait a little longer first.
Ronaldo was seen as the perfect replacement to Beckham over time, despite having very different styles of play. Beckham was more about the traditional play, while Ronaldo dazzled supporters with his trickery and movement with the ball. However, both players were known for there free-kicks, Beckham famously scoring for England against Greece, a crucial goal for their World Cup hopes, and Ronaldo scoring his free-kick against Portsmouth that pundits didn't even think was possible. David Moyes has been able to bring back David Beckham, bringing him home much to the liking of the club and fans. But can he do the same with Cristiano Ronaldo. Beckham and Ronaldo have both been the magnificent sevens, with Ronaldo previously replacing Beckham. But now, 10 years on, could we see both Beckham and Ronaldo playing in the same line-up, playing for the Read Army?