Ronaldo had become one of the hottest properties in world football by the summer of 2003, with Arsenal already considering a move for him, while Liverpool and United circled.
The Red Devils famously made their move after a friendly between Sporting and United, in which Ronaldo impressed Sir Alex Ferguson so much that he immediately sanctioned a transfer.
Liverpool could have beaten United to the Portuguese wonderkid after Thompson, then the assistant manager at Anfield, watched Ronaldo in Sporting’s final game of the 2002/03 season and enquired about his availability.
A fee of just £4m and wages of £1m-a-year were requested but Liverpool were keen and manager Houllier was set to watch him in the flesh before making a move, however, they were just too slow.
‘For an 18-year-old, that was a lot of money,’ Thompson told the Athletic. ‘But Tony [Henry, the agent involved] said it was negotiable and I thought, “Jesus, these lot really are trying to push him out of the door”. We were keen, the boy was obviously a great talent.
‘Gerard and myself almost choked on our food. I can remember Gerard jumping up and saying, “What the hell has gone on there?”‘.
That summer, having missed out on Ronaldo, Liverpool signed Harry Kewell, Anthony Le Tallec, Florent Sinama Pongolle and Steve Finnan for around £700,000 less than the Portuguese cost United.