Cristiano Ronaldo was given his first team break at Sporting Lisbon by coach Laszlo Boloni. The Romanian's legacy at Sporting Lisbon was handing not just Ronaldo, but also Ricardo Quaresma and Hugo Viana their chance to shine.
Boloni, now coaching at Qatari side Al-Khor Sports Club, also opted to shift Ronaldo from centre-forward to the left and right flank, developing the player who would later arrive as an exciting winger at Manchester United.
Inside Futbol sent John Georgopoulos for an exclusive chat with the former Romania national team manager to speak about Ronaldo's first steps in the game under his leadership.
Inside Futbol (IF): Did you always know Ronaldo would become a much better player than Quaresma?
Laszlo Boloni (LB): In my view Ronaldo is technically stronger. He's the best in the world physically. His right foot is great, but he’s comfortable with the ball on the left foot too. He has everything.
Although he was very young and immature, he had great quality as a player. Ronaldo is an aerial threat, scoring very often with headers. Quaresma cannot use his left foot. He has a lot of quality as a player, but he is not like Ronaldo.
[Quaresma] has proved his value and he has a nice career behind him. He is still playing at a high level and is considered one of the best players in Portugal. I am happy for him.
They are my kids. We lived many good times at Sporting Lisbon. It was not I who gave them a special gift, but it was important for them to work hard under my guidance.
IF: Is it true English clubs were already trying to sign Ronaldo before he moved to Manchester United?
LB: There was a lot of interest in Cristiano Ronaldo. I remember Arsene Wenger collecting information about Ronaldo. He invited him in 2002 to Arsenal's training ground. Also many French clubs were interested in him.
At that time Manchester United had a good relationship with Sporting Lisbon. It was normal for Ronaldo to move to Manchester United and it was a great choice from him.
IF: What was the first thing that you noticed about Ronaldo?
LB: The first thing that surprised me about him was his maturity on the pitch. He showed no fear. It seemed that he was a special talent. He could handle and carry the ball with ease.
IF: What was your advice to him?
LB: I gave him plenty of advice. At the age 16, he was playing as centre-forward, but when he started to train with the rest of the team, I thought it was the best to shift him to the right or left flank. That was my most important advice to him.
IF: Do you remember the first time you saw him?
LB: Ronaldo was in the junior team in 2002. But having watched one of the games he played, I soon realised that he could respond to higher level.
I remember that some of our players were on international duty, so I offered him the opportunity to join a [first team] training session.
He was the youngest among the players. I was impressed with his skills and I spoke with the board and promoted him. He was ready to play for the first team.
He was very fast with incredible technique. He loved the game so much and that's why he is, right now, the best player in the world.
IF: It is often claimed he is arrogant, but just what kind of person is Ronaldo?
LB: Cristiano is an amazing guy, a great character. It has been rumoured that he is arrogant, but this is not the case. He is a hard worker, an example for every player who wants to be at the top level, even in his private life.
Cristiano was happy at Sporting Lisbon and he had a very strong character.
IF: Is it true that there's no other woman in the world more important to Cristiano Ronaldo than his mother, Dolores Aveiro?
LB: Ηe is very attached to his family, to his mother and his sisters. I remember once his mother came from Madeira to the hotel where the team stayed and asked to meet me in person. She thanked me for taking care of her son. Their relationship is very strong.
IF: Did you predict his development would mean that he would reach the top of the world?
LB: It was easy to notice that he was a special player, a special talent. But I did not know how he would progress.
I said that he would become a bigger player than Luis Figo or Eusebio. He had all the necessary ingredients at that time to become one of the best players in the world or even the best. I appreciate his football intelligence. He reached the highest level and my prediction about him was right.
IF: The debate over who is the best player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, continues to rage. What is your view?
LB: My opinion would not be 100 per cent objective. I'm a bit like a father, I'm proud of him. If I had to choose I would say Ronaldo. In the world of football, fans want to see spectacular games and enjoy the games.
For you maybe Messi is the best, for me Ronaldo, for my neighbour Messi or for someone else again Ronaldo and so on.
What matters is that we are lucky to see those two great players playing at the same time.
IF: Did the move for another of your starlets at Sporting Lisbon, Hugo Viana, to Newcastle come too early? Was it the wrong move for his career?
LB: Hugo Viana is a midfielder with good technical capacity. He could play in different midfield positions. I think he is a good player, but his level is not the same as Cristiano Ronaldo.
It was normal he moved to Newcastle, it was such a good choice for him. At the time he was 19 years old. You have to accept this challenge like Hugo Viana did at Newcastle, a club with great history.
He is a very good player and nice person who gave always his best.