UTD Unscripted: Goals and glory
A few years after Manchester United won the Treble, I had the opportunity to visit Old Trafford with my youth football team. They gave us a tour of the dressing room where the players changed. I was there, seated, and they told me I was sitting in the place where Ryan Giggs would sit, so I was telling my team-mates: “This is amazing. I’m here. One day I will have to play for this team.”
I think it was four years later that I heard United wanted to sign me.
In such a short time, I had so many teams trying to buy me and invest in me for the future, and obviously it was very important that my agent gave me some good advice. So he did. He said: “If you go to Man United, Cristiano is already there, you have Carlos Queiroz who is Portuguese, they can both help you. Plus the coach, Sir Alex Ferguson, is someone who will invest in the young lads. When he brings them, he does something with them. He doesn’t just leave it as your problem if you don’t do your best.”
As soon as I heard that, I said: “Ok, I want to go to Man United.” He did his job with the club and when I arrived, it was amazing. When you see these people on TV, you don’t see them as just normal people. But they were just completely normal. They helped me a lot and it was so easy for me to fit into the team and get so used to the players, to the culture, to everything in the club.
Yes, I had a lot to learn in a short space of time, but it was much easier to have Cristiano there, to speak the same language. Anderson also came at the same time and the three of us stayed together at Cristiano’s house for a little while. We also had Carlos Queiroz who could help a little bit more when we didn’t understand what someone was saying. We were always asking him: “What did they say? Can you help? Can you translate?” So at the beginning it was so important to have people who already spoke the language and could advise us how to drive in that country or how to behave because there are different rules you’re not used to. That was so important to make it so easy for us.
The one who impressed me the most, though, was Paul Scholes because the quality he was putting into training was like he didn’t have to push. He would be playing soft: one touch, two touch, and nobody could catch him. He looked like he was having fun every time he trained. I could tell you every player. Ryan Giggs helped me a lot with his advice, with his quality, his training as well… the old players, the experience they had, they were putting into every single session. Every single day, there was something I was paying a lot of attention to. I wasn’t talking to them too much, just putting my eyes on them and what they were doing and what I should take from them. Rio Ferdinand and Vidic in the defence, Patrice Evra, the strength he put into every single ball in training was amazing. You would learn a lot, just seeing them train. Berbatov, Rooney, the way they were finishing, the way they were scoring goals.
In my early days at United, I was fortunate enough to play a lot of games straight away and I was so happy to get my first goal quite quickly. We were playing Tottenham and the score was 0-0 in the second half. It was a difficult game and we were not playing so well. There was a play where I should have received the ball from Chris Eagles, but someone rebounded the ball, the ball bounced back and I had to go back to catch the ball. In the time I was running back to catch the ball, I was thinking: I’m gonna turn and I’m gonna shoot. So as soon as I touched the ball, I turned and I didn’t think too much. I just tried to hit the ball the best that I could.
The ball flew into the top of the net from around 25 yards, 30 yards. Amazing.
I think it was Scholesy who tried to grab me first, but I opened my arms to say wait, wait, wait, because I cannot lose my excitement or I cannot do my celebration. That celebration has to be right in the very moment where you’re excited. So I was trying to get away from everyone first and get some space. I made sure everyone was a little bit safe and I did a beautiful backflip. Though I did nearly kick Patrice in the face. He got too close!
I was so lucky to score that beautiful goal, but I must tell you, they tried to take it from me. After a couple of days, Sir Alex came to me and said: “That wasn’t your goal! That was Tevez’s goal. Tevez headed the ball! Carlitos, you headed the ball, right?”
Tevez was playing with me too, so he agreed.
“No, no, no. Don’t say that! I scored the goal!”
All the time I was playing, training, learning and improving. We were having a great season too, around the top of the Premier League and playing very well in the Champions League.
One game that sticks in my memory is the FA Cup game against Arsenal. That was a fantastic game. I remember the coach wanted us to win that game well, with attitude, because there was always something when Arsenal came to play against us. There was always big talk. We knew every time we played Arsenal, we were the better team, the stronger team. We were the stronger men. That game, we wanted to really win. Not just win. Really win.
We did. At half-time it was 3-0. I had a goal and an assist, then I got another assist for Fletch in the second half, so it was 4-0 when I started doing the skills that people remember. To tell the truth, it wasn’t on purpose. I wasn’t thinking to do that, it was just because the ball came to me in the air. I had to control it the way I did. Patrice flicked the ball to me, it was high off the ground and because I had the Arsenal player behind me I couldn’t put the ball straight away on the floor, so I had to start trying to go back while controlling the ball, so that when I was in a safer zone, I could put the ball on the floor. But, at the same time as I received the ball, the player was pressing me, so the only thing I could do is juggle it back using my head and my thigh. I was strong, he was hitting me and nothing was happening. He tried to kick me a couple of times. It was funny, that game.
In the end we went out of the FA Cup, but that’s something you forget when you are doing so well in the Premier League and Champions League, the two biggest competitions. We were playing so many big games all the time. I scored another one of my favourite goals against Liverpool, a great hit, but I injured myself a little bit in the last minute before going to the national team, and that delayed my season a little bit, but I recovered well and I was able to play against Barcelona at Old Trafford.
What a fantastic night that was. I remember the coach telling me: “You know why you’re going to play? Because you can go and come back at the same speed.” So I had to track their players. I remember I had to mark Messi on the wing, he tried to dribble past me and I said to myself: I have to give everything. And he tried to trick me, I did a tackle and won the ball clean, and the ref gave a foul and I was so frustrated! In that game, we knew if we didn’t give him space and let him play as he liked, we could win that game. We did so well, Scholesy scored a great goal and that was one of the best games and best atmospheres I ever played in because it was so big. There were so many big players on the field, and I was so young, but I was feeling big as well. I was so happy to be playing in a game like that.
Where are they?
I need my boots!
I looked around and I thought to myself…
I need ANY boots.
So I put on Owen Hargreaves’ boots and ran back out.
The referee blew the final whistle, everyone celebrated and me, I was just so happy. My first title. Our first title.
Of course, a few days later we had the Champions League final and this time I was in the squad and I came on as a substitute during extra-time. I was so excited to play and help the team. I just wanted to change the game because, for me to come on, I was supposed to change the game. It was me, Anderson and Giggsy who came on to make things happen and I think we did quite well. Like I say, I was so excited – one cross came in and I went with everything to win that ball, but I was a little bit late and I clashed head-to-head with Ashley Cole.
I opened my head. The medical staff came to see me, but I was so warm that I wanted to come straight back to the game, so they just looked at my head and said: “Yeah, it’s bleeding a little bit, we’ll put a little bit of Vaseline on it and you’ll go back.” After that, they didn’t say anything. Not how deep it was or anything. I went back into the game, I was still bleeding but I didn’t think about it. It didn’t matter.
The final whistle went, I said I wanted to take a penalty but, when it was my turn, I was not completely calm because we saw Cristiano miss his penalty and he was the one who had been taking all the penalties during the season. When you see him miss… wow. You just think: Ok, we’re done.
Where am I going to put the ball?
How am I going to score the penalty?
It’s easy when you see a goalkeeper who is a little bit smaller because you know he cannot touch the ball in time, but Cech was so big.
I’m going to hit my corner, hit it strong, so even if he dives the same way, the ball must still go in.
I was so lucky because he touched the ball, but at the end what counts is the ball's inside the net. Chelsea missed two, we came back, we won the Champions League. What a fantastic feeling.
We were celebrating so much afterwards. I still had pain in my head but I didn’t care. At the end, we went back to the dressing room, the doctor came to me and said: “Nani, you still need to have stitches.”
“Oh, really? I thought it was small.”
“Yeah, it’s small, but we just need to do eight stitches on it.”
Unbelievable, huh? It was funny though. It was fine, I was just talking with them while it happened. I was too happy to feel anything bad in that moment. When I joined United, I was not asking for much in my first season, but we had won the two biggest trophies we could win.
If my team-mates had told me that when I was sat in the dressing room on the tour of Old Trafford, within a few years I would be playing for United and that every positive thing I could possibly think of would have happened, I would definitely have thought they were joking!