Ronaldo became Manchester United’s first Portuguese player when he signed before the 2003–04 season. His transfer fee of £12.24 million made him, at the time, the most expensive teenager in English football history. Although he requested the number 28, his number at Sporting, he received the number 7 shirt, which had previously been worn by such United players as George Best, Eric Cantona and David Beckham. Wearing the number 7 became an extra source of motivation for Ronaldo. A key element in his development during his time in England proved to be his manager, Alex Ferguson, of whom he later said, “He’s been my father in sport, one of the most important and influential factors in my career.”
Ahead of the 2008–09 season, on 7 July, Ronaldo underwent ankle surgery, which kept him out of action for 10 weeks. Following his return, he scored his 100th goal in all competitions for United with the first of two free kicks in a 5–0 win against Stoke City on 15 November, which meant he had now scored against all 19 opposition teams in the Premier League at the time. At the close of 2008, Ronaldo helped United win the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan, assisting the final-winning goal against Liga de Quito and winning the Silver Ball in the process. He subsequently became United’s first Ballon d’Or winner since George Best in 1968, and the first Premier League player to be named the FIFA World Player of the Year.
His match-winning goal in the second leg against Porto, a 40-yard strike, earned him the inaugural FIFA Puskás Award, presented by FIFA in recognition of the best goal of the year; he later called it the best goal he had ever scored. United advanced to the final in Rome, where he made little impact in United’s 2–0 defeat to Barcelona. Ronaldo ended his time in England with nine trophies, as United claimed their third successive Premier League title and a Football League Cup. He finished the campaign with 26 goals in all competitions, 16 goals fewer than the previous season, in four more appearances. His final ever goal for Manchester United came on 10 May 2009 with a free kick in the Manchester derby at Old Trafford.