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Cristiano Ronaldo could have easily been lining up in blue instead of red when Manchester rivals City and United clash at Old Trafford tomorrow. But in one of the most sensational transfers in Premier League history, here is the story of how the Portuguese superstar snubbed Pep Guardiola in favour of returning to United instead.
Pep Guardiola was struggling to contain his anger as he tried to process the news he just hadn't seen coming.
The Manchester City boss had been preparing to address the media ahead of his side's opening Premier League game against Arsenal when his director of football, Txiki Begiristain, dropped the bombshell that sent shockwaves throughout the club.
He told him Cristiano Ronaldo was coming back to Manchester, but wasn't heading to the Etihad. He was returning to Old Trafford.
It was a crushing blow to the greatest manager in the world, who within a matter of minutes found himself fielding questions about his club's pursuit of one of football's iconic stars.
Six weeks of talks and intense negotiations had been reduced to rubble and while those on the zoom call didn't know it at the time, Guardiola did – and the disappointment was etched all over his face.
There was still 96 hours of the summer's transfer window remaining, but Guardiola's weekend had been utterly ruined, despite City's subsequent 5-0 thumping of the Gunners.
Across town, meanwhile, the celebrations and back slapping were starting at United, who had just pulled off one of the most stunning deals in English football history.
The fact it came at almost the eleventh hour, at the expense of their "noisy neighbours", made it all the more sweeter.
United had long since harboured a dream of re-signing Ronaldo, ever since he left them to join Real Madrid in a then world-record £90m deal in 2009.
Did Cristiano Ronaldo make the right choice to return to Man Utd, or should he have gone to Man City? Comment below
But his astonishing success in the Spanish capital, combined with Sir Alex Ferguson's decision to retire in 2013, meant that three attempts to lure him back in the last seven years had failed.
So when it became clear in July that Ronaldo wanted to leave Juventus following a breakdown in his relationship with president Andrea Agneilli and senior team-mate Leonardo Bonucci, United were placed on red alert.
City's hierarchy were ahead of the game, though, and had opened talks with Ronaldo's agent Jorge Mendes. Having failed to lure England captain Harry Kane to the Etihad, Ronaldo felt like a more than adequate alternative.
United's own powerbrokers, including executive vice chairman Ed Woodward and commercial director Richard Arnold, sprang into action when the green light to hijack the deal had been given from club owners the Glazers in Florida.
United, who have a stronger relationship with Mendes than City do, were not going to let Ronaldo elude them a fourth time, with one senior club official admitting, "I couldn't accept him in sky blue. Ever. I'd rather cut my eyes out."
By this stage the small number of people involved in the Ronaldo chase on behalf of United, including Fergie, had been sworn to secrecy.
United decided to play their trump card in the final week of the window and got Fergie to ring Ronaldo personally.
When Ronaldo answered the phone to his mentor and father-figure he wanted to chat, but all Fergie said was "don't join City", before hanging up. The coded message was brief but clear. United wanted him back and wouldn't take no for an answer this time.
Ronaldo was flattered to say the least and spoke to senior figures at United, before instructing Mendes to strike the deal – and within 72 hours he had become the highest paid star in the Premier League at the age of 36.
But there was a problem. United wanted to announce it to the world on the opening weekend of the new season, but Mendes was uncomfortable about going behind City's back and insisted on contacting Begiristain personally to break the bad news, which he did.
Wary of the fact City now knew what was happening, United brought forward their announcement and released a statement on the Friday tea-time of August 27, confirming Ronaldo had been snared.
City have since denied being interested in Ronaldo, but it's understood the champions had agreed a fee with Juventus, believed to be £25m, as well as personal terms with the striker. The paperwork had been drawn up.
At least Guardiola got to find out before the rest of the world did, which might explain why he was so negative when asked about the impending arrival of Ronaldo that the Spaniard knew simply wasn't now going to happen.
"In my personal view there are few players, Cristiano Ronaldo is included and (Lionel) Messi of course, who decide where they are going to play," he said, "they have the leading role in the negotiations in where they want to play.
"Cristiano will decide where he wants to play: not Manchester City, not myself. There are many things that right now look far, far away. I know today is a tough press conference for myself.
"These players decide. They knock on the door. They go. After that there are situations I cannot control, because it is not my business and I am focused to do what we have to do and the players we have right now."
The rest, as they say, is history, but it will be an afternoon both Manchester clubs will never forget – for very different reasons.
- Cristiano Ronaldo
- Pep Guardiola
- Sir Alex Ferguson
- Premier League
- Manchester United FC
- Manchester City FC
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