Cristiano Ronaldo's influential agent Jorge Mendes has revealed for the first time how close his star client came to committing his future to Arsenal in his formative years.
Ronaldo was just 17 when Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger made his move to bring the Portuguese starlet to north London, with one of the rising stars of European football impressing during a week-long trial with the Gunners as he plotted his move away from Sporting Lisbon.
Wenger previously stated that his failure to sign Ronaldo is "the biggest regret" of his coaching career and it seems the chance to complete the deal did, indeed, slip through the fingers of Arsenal and their then vice-chairman David Dein.
The comments from Mendes are printed in a new book being released with his approval and support, with the quotes appearing in the Daily Mail suggesting Arsenal and the now departed Dein were initially ahead of United in the queue to sign Ronaldo. The expense of their move to Emirates Stadium was the apparent reason the deal was scuppered.
"There was a moment in which I really thought he was going to Arsenal," Mendes is quoted as saying as he reflected on Ronaldo's first major transfer.
"David Dein is a spectacular person but, with the construction of their stadium, they were left with very little money and it wasn't possible."
Ronaldo is also quoted in the book as he looks back on his flirtations with Arsenal and said: "We were travelling by car and Jorge was calling us constantly telling me to hide so no one would see me. We went to a service station and I had to hide my face. I remember back then that Jorge was going crazy, those were Jorge's craziest days."
In the end, it was Manchester United who won the race to sign Ronaldo, with Mendes suggesting the influence of Old Trafford manager Sir Alex Ferguson was crucial to a move that launched the career of one of the most successful players of the modern era.
"The only person key to everything was Alex Ferguson," added the agent, who also represents Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho. "He told me that Cristiano was going to play at least 50 percent of the games for Manchester United and that's what I wanted to hear. That's why Cristiano went to Manchester United."
Ronaldo joined United for a reported fee of just over 12 million pounds in 2003, before emerging as one of the world's elite players and moving to Real Madrid for a world record 80 millions pounds in 2009.
Earlier in the week, Wenger confirmed he narrowly missed out on signing current United star Angel Di Maria as he looked to make a move to European football.