Manchester United missed out on signing Ronaldinho in the summer of 2003 after Peter Kenyon messed PSG around, allowing Barcelona to swoop in for the legendary player. Having had a fee accepted, Kenyon learnt that Barcelona had a lower offer also accepted, so when it came to finalising the deal he lowered United’s offer too. PSG were not impressed and the deal collapsed, with Sir Alex Ferguson openly criticising Kenyon afterwards.
But in an exclusive interview in the RoM charity season preview, Kleberson has revealed that United had shown interest in Ronaldinho as early as the summer before.
I was in France with the Brazil national team and after the game Ronaldinho and his brother were talking about how United want Ronaldinho to go there and then they say ‘Kleberson, there is a chance that Ronaldinho will go to Manchester United and there an opportunity for you join also because they want you.’
I say, ‘wow, Man United? The team from England?’ I start to say the names of the players there and Ronaldinho said yeah, we can go together and I say oh my gosh. Then I start to get more information through my agent. Obviously I follow United as a team, but I was just a kid at that time, I never imagined to have the opportunity to play for United.
When pushed on whether he really thought Ronaldinho would be signing that summer, Kleberson was certain his compatriot would be joining him in the Premier League.
Oh yeah. I expected that. I really talked with him and the other guys a lot about that. He told me like, ‘we’re going together to Man United’ and then he goes off to Barcelona.
Kleberson signed for United on the back of Brazil’s World Cup win in 2002, with the midfielder assisting one of Ronaldo’s goals in the final. He reflected on what that game was like to play in.
That game is a really special game for me because everything was going well for the team and me. Scolari looked at me before the game and told me I was going to be the best player on the pitch and that nobody would be marking me. He doesn’t tell Ronaldo, you’ll score two goals, he doesn’t tell Rivaldo you will be the best player on the pitch or Marcos that he will be the best keeper.
I stepped onto the field with so much freedom and confidence and I played like a dream. Almost every touch was perfect, I hit the post, I closed the space around opponents and also made an assist. Playing in that team with those players, for me was amazing. Sometimes I look back and I can’t believe it. Imagine playing and winning the World Cup with people like Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Roberto Carlos, wow. It was such a special group. We had Kaka on the bench as he was so young. Ronaldo was so good for us, his mentality, interactions, technique, ideas and the respect he gave and got. I never saw someone as respected as him, nobody ever says anything bad about him, everyone loves him.
Interview with Rich Evans. To read the interview in full, where he discusses his relationship with Ferguson, which players impressed him the most and his favourite memories of United, buy the charity preview.