But, much to England’s chagrin and probably goalkeeper David Seaman’s delight, the Brazil star, one of football’s great performers, never graced the Premier League.
Despite Man United’s best efforts, Barcelona signed the prized Ronaldinho in 2003.
At one point, Blackburn Rovers attempted to bring the former Barcelona and Milan forward to these shores. What if you don’t buy a ticket?
However, when Manchester United attempted to capture the South American superstar from Paris Saint-Germain in 2003, there was a real possibility that he would join a Premier League club.
They were only 48 hours away from signing a 23-year-old Ronaldinho, who had already established himself as one of Europe’s most exciting players, lit up the 2002 World Cup, knocked England out, and manager Sir Alex Ferguson was obsessed.
There weren’t many clubs that could out-muscle the Premier League side in the transfer market back then, but once Barcelona got involved, it was game over.
The Nou Camp, with its fierce tradition of eccentric Brazilians – Romario, Rivaldo, Ronaldo – was Ronaldinho’s spiritual home, even if no one knew it.
It was his ambition, and as it turned out, his fate, to play for the Catalans.
Maybe that’s why the stars aligned in such a bizarre way to guarantee he ended up there instead of at Old Trafford.
With Barcelona fading into obscurity, Joan Laporta and Sandro Rosell launched their presidential campaign by guaranteeing one of three superstar signings: David Beckham, Thierry Henry, or Ronaldinho.
After failing to entice Henry from Arsenal and losing Beckham to Real Madrid, the new president and vice president snatched Ronaldinho from United’s grip at the last minute and debuted him on July 20, 2003.
“It almost happened with United,” the Brazilian once recounted. It was only a matter of 48 hours, but Rosell had already asked me: ‘If I become Barca president, will you come?’ Yes, I said.
“When Rosell called to say he was going to win the election in United, it was only a matter of details.” And I had promised him that I would play for Barcelona.”
Ronaldinho remains one of the finest values in transfer history, having cost €30 million 20 years ago.
If you weren’t old enough to remember him in his peak, how good was he? “Prime Ronaldinho was incredible.” Zlatan Ibrahimovic famously claimed, “He made his opponents look like children.”
Not only did he virtually single-handedly restore Barcelona’s glory days, but his contagious delight on the field made him the most marketable, as well as the most gifted, player on the planet by an incredible margin.
According to United star Paul Scholes, the team were not happy about missing out on Ronaldinho.
“I remember two or three that were possibly coming,” Scholes once stated.
“I believe Ronaldinho is the one who stands out.”
“He was away on pre-season, and we were on the verge of announcing him and assigning him a number, but I believe he changed his mind at the last minute and signed with Barcelona.”
“It’s odd because we played Barcelona on that preseason tour.”
“Everyone was ecstatic – Ronaldinho, what a player!” I believe he was on his way from PSG at the time, and we were all looking forward to playing with him and seeing what he had to offer.
“It’s almost like Eric Cantona brought to the team.” Three days later, we’re playing against him, and we’re all attempting to kick him because he didn’t sign with us.
“It was disappointing, but I’d been fortunate to play with some incredible players, and he’d have just been another incredible player I’d played with, but it just never happened.”
It wasn’t all negative for United when they didn’t get Ronaldinho.
A few weeks later, still trying to ease the impact of Beckham’s departure and introduce a new No.7 to Old Trafford, they bought this young man named Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo established a legend in a storied career, departed in a record move, returned years later, and then set the place on fire.
And Ronaldinho’s spectacular career isn’t his only legacy at Old Trafford; he also inspired their finest player today, Bruno Fernandes.
“In my first few years, the player I think everyone liked and will always like is Ronaldinho,” the midfielder stated.
“In my opinion, he is the player who can take you and put you in front of the TV and keep you there for hours.” For several hours!
“Because he was full of energy and happiness.” He was content with all he did.
“You enjoy it when you see guys playing like that, so Ronaldinho was my favorite player for the first few years.”
So, like the rest of the football world, United has a lot to thank Ronaldinho for.
But we can only imagine what it would have been like to witness him flip-flapping around the Premier League.