Cristiano Ronaldo’s first Manchester United debut – told by those who were there

It was in 2003 that a fresh-faced 18-year-old with frosted tips by the name of Cristiano Ronaldo made his Manchester United debut.

A lot has changed in that time, not least United's fortunes on the pitch.

But one thing that will remain the same when Ronaldo makes his second Red Devils bow this weekend is the sense of anticipation that will greet him from the Old Trafford crowd.

United fans will be hoping he can produce a similar display to the one he conjured on his first debut against Bolton 18 years ago, proving the catalyst for a 4-0 win after coming on in the 61st minute.

Daily Star Sport are looking back at that iconic match and Ronaldo's performance – told by those who were there on that fateful afternoon.

Sir Alex Ferguson (United manager)

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One man who needed no introduction to Ronaldo's talents was Sir Alex Ferguson. The legendary Scot pressed for United to sign the Portuguese, so it was no surprise to see him hand the teenager his debut against Bolton.

Speaking after the match, Fergie said: "It was a marvellous debut, I thought the pace was too slow in the first half and I knew Cristiano would add penetration.

"We have to be careful with the boy. You must remember he is only 18. We are going to have to gauge when we use him."

Reflecting further in his autobiography, Ferguson added: "The Bolton defenders ended up in knots. The right-back rattled him straight away in the centre of the park, took the ball off him, but Cristiano got straight back up and demanded another pass."

Nicky Hunt (Bolton full-back)

One man with a vivid recollections of Ronaldo's debut is Nicky Hunt. Hunt, who was just 19 at the time, was charged with marking the winger following his introduction in the 61st minute.

"I think we were surprised at just how exciting he was, his little tricks and flicks but he would get at you," Hunt told the Manchester Evening News. "What wingers don't do now is they don't run at you, they don't want to get crosses in anymore.

"We just knew that he could be starting his first game and if he did then it would be on my side so I was looking forward to the game, I love playing football, and instead of him I had Giggs on my side for 60 minutes and Ronaldo for 30.

"I don't think it could have got any worse for me that day!"

"I just had to think on my feet and it was trying to watch the ball and not the man, but it's so hard with Ronaldo because his feet are so quick and he does things fast that by the time you can react he's already gone past you or whipped a cross in."

"It was very difficult but I really enjoyed it and there wasn't a time when I played against him in the future that I didn't relish it," he said.

Sam Allardyce (Bolton manager)

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In the opposite dugout, Bolton boss Sam Allardyce could only watch as Ronaldo ripped into Wanderers full-back Nicky Hunt, giving the youngster an afternoon he'll never forget.

Recalling the Portuguese star's debut, Allardyce told Sky Sports News: "I’d had a cup of tea with Sir Alex before the game in his office and he said, ‘this lad, he’s good’.

"Of course, we saw him come on as a sub. I think we were losing at the time and he was playing against a young full back called Nicky Hunt.

"I felt sorry for Nicky when he came off. (Ronaldo) came on and just dazzled. I said to Sir Alex, ‘you look like you’ve got a real player there for Manchester United’.

George Best (United legend)

Ronaldo even caught the eye of club legend George Best, another famous custodian of the club's legendary No.7 shirt.

It's not clear whether the Northern Irishman was at Old Trafford for the winger's debut, but he was still taken aback by what he saw.

Best said: "Ronaldo’s first United game as a substitute in the season opener against Bolton was undoubtedly the most exciting debut performance I’ve ever seen.

"A few of my old team-mates were at the game and they compared him to me. There have been players who have some similarities, but this lad’s got more than anyone else, especially as he is genuinely two-footed.

"He can play on either wing, beat players with ease and put in dangerous crosses with his left or right peg.

"When was the last time you saw that? With Ronaldo and Giggsy on the pitch at the same time, opposition defenders will be petrified!"

Paul Hetherington (Reporter)

The view from the press box was much the same as the rest of Old Trafford.

Paul Hetherington, who was reporting on the game in 2003, told Daily Star Sport: "I think we all were aware in the press box that Man Utd were very excited about this signing.

"When Ronaldo came on there was a general feeling of anticipation among the crowd and they were obviously looking forward to seeing him having read and heard a lot about him in the build-up to the game.

"He certainly created a stir when he came on. United were rampant in the final stages of that match against Bolton – eventually winning 4-0.

"The crowd were immediately treated to his repertoire of step overs when he was running at the Bolton defence and the full-backs, Nicky Hunt in particular.

"I think there was a slightly mixed view among my colleagues after the game about him. Some people thought he was a bit of a show pony, but if that was the case he was a show pony who developed into a thoroughbred.

"I think one of the things which immediateLy struck you was his supreme self-confidence. Here was a young player who had great faith in his own ability – he wasn't frightened to showcase and do something different.

"He was doing it within minutes of being on the pitch and you looked at him and thought the one certainty is that there is some tremendous talent there, it's now a question of harnessing and developing that talent.

"I think everybody's appetite was well and truly wetted that day and they wanted to see more of him and fascinated to see where he went from there."

Ronaldo's team-mates

Ronaldo's debut against Bolton also had a lasting impression on his team-mates, with ex-goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar saying: "I think Ruud [van Nistelrooy] was used to David [Beckham] crossing the ball every time he had it.

"David didn’t have pace to dribble and beat opponents, so he had to do something else. Ronnie had the pace and the tricks."

Roy Keane, though, wasn't quite as impressed. He said: "It was 20 minutes, that's all it was. I think he won a penalty, but so what?"

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