Barcelona nearly signed Cristiano Ronaldo in 2003

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ESPN – Former Barcelona president Joan Laporta has said that the club could have signed Cristiano Ronaldo before he swapped Sporting Club for Manchester United in 2003.

Laporta was elected as Barca president that same year and began a process which would see the club go on to enjoy over a decade of success.

Part of that process included revamping the first-team squad and after signing Ronaldinho from Paris Saint-Germain, among others, there were talks to sign Portuguese midfielder Deco.

However, after realising that Barca couldn’t stump up the cash for Deco that summer, agent Jorge Mendes offered the Catalan club Ronaldo.

“We had signed Ronaldinho, [Rafael] Marquez and [Ricardo] Quaresma,” Laporta said as reported by Marca.

“We were in a process of reconstruction throughout the whole club. [Ronaldo] was at Sporting at the time, before Manchester United, and we were speaking with his agent who wanted to sell us Deco.

“We said that we couldn’t because we weren’t able to [spend that much at the time], so he told us he had another really good kid. It was Ronaldo. He had a deal with United for €19 million, but we were offered him for €17m.”

Barca didn’t follow up on the offer, with Ronaldo going on to star for United before signing for the Blaugrana‘s arch rivals, Real Madrid, in 2009. Deco, meanwhile, did eventually join the Spanish Primera Division side the following summer.

However, Laporta feels that Barca have benefited from the best player in the history of the game for the last decade anyway, regardless of letting Ronaldo slip away.

“I think [Lionel Messi] is the best player in the history of football,” he added ahead of this weekend’s Clasico at Camp Nou.

“There are others with great quality, but Leo is above the rest. He has natural talent, goals, he’s a leader… he has it all. And on top of that, he’s humble with it.”

Messi’s contract expires in 2018 and there are reports of interest across Europe, but Laporta, who lost out to Josep Maria Bartomeu in last summer’s presidential elections at Barca, hopes and expects the Argentine will stay in Catalonia.

“He will be one of those players that spends their whole life at Barcelona,” he said. “It’s what we want. We’ll ask Santa for Messi to renew.

“What all Barca fans want is for him to stay. As is normal for the best player in the world, though, there are a lot of clubs trying to sign him, so you have to give him confidence and you have to value him according to his status [as the best player in the world].”

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