What happened to Cristiano Ronaldo's 2003 debut team-mates?

Ole’s now at the wheel, Roy Keane graces our screens and Rio Ferdinand even attempted a career in the ring… as Cristiano Ronaldo prepares for his second Man United debut 18 years after his first, what has happened to his team-mates on that day in 2003?

  • Cristiano Ronaldo is set to begin his second spell with Manchester United
  • The Portuguese star, 36, could play against Newcastle United this Saturday 
  • Ronaldo made his first debut in 2003 with a 30-minute cameo against Bolton
  • Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will reunite with Ronaldo as the Red Devils’ manager
  • Five more of the Portugal captain’s debut team-mates are now in coaching roles 

It was clear that Cristiano Ronaldo was going to be a special player when he made his Manchester United debut in 2003.

Now, 18 years on from his first performance at Old Trafford, Ronaldo is set to grace the Theatre of Dreams once again following his sensational return to the club from Juventus in the summer. 

The Portugal international has been made to wait to make his second United bow due to the international break, and there are even suggestions now he will have to sit out Saturday’s match against Newcastle.

It was a different story in 2003 though, when just four days after signing for United, Ronaldo featured on the bench for their season-opening 4-0 win against Bolton Wanderers. 

Cristiano Ronaldo made a 30-minute cameo in his Man United debut against Bolton in 2003

Ronaldo takes the acclaim of the crowd at the final whistle after impressing on his debut

Before the game, there was more buzz about £5.9million signing Kleberson from Brazilian outfit Atletico Paranaense, who was unveiled on the pitch, than a young Ronaldo.

But he came on in the second half to make a 30-minute cameo and, as they say, the rest is history. 

However, with the Portuguese talent closing in on another debut after making his dramatic return to United, his team-mates on that day in 2003 are on very different career paths in and around the game.

From club management, punditry and drawn-out playing careers, Sportsmail takes a look at what has happened to Ronaldo’s team-mates on that day.

Sir Alex Ferguson welcomes Ronaldo and Brazilian midfielder Kleberson to the club in 2003

Kleberson was introduced to the crowd at Old Trafford ahead of the match against Bolton

The keeper is a legend of football stateside but his United career never quite took off. 

His first season at the club saw the Red Devils win the FA Cup but a gaffe at home to Porto in the Champions League saw his game time limited over the next two campaigns and he fell behind Edwin van der Saar in the pecking order.

After becoming a periphery figure under Sir Alex Ferguson, he left for Everton in 2006 where he gained cult status among the Goodison faithful.

Howard hung up his gloves in October 2019 but came out of retirement last year aged 40 to take a turn between the sticks for USL Championship side Memphis 901 FC in the American second tier.

Howard has a minority stake in the club and holds the role of sporting director.

Tim Howard plays in goal for American side Memphis 901 after coming out of retirement 


The full-back came through the United academy as a member of the infamous class of ’92 and went on to play 378 times for the Reds under Ferguson between 1994 and 2005, winning six Premier League titles, three FA Cups and a Champions League trophy. 

Neville became another Red Devil who made the switch to Goodison. He made 303 appearances and captained the Blues before ending his playing days on Merseyside.

Neville swapped the pitch for the sidelines after he stepped away from playing. The 44-year-old became the England women’s manager in 2018, leading the Lionesses to their first SheBelieves Cup title in 2019 and to the World Cup semi-finals. 

However, results following the tournament became consistently poor and Neville stepped down in January to take over former team-mate David Beckham’s MLS side Inter Miami. 

His fortunes did not improve much at the start of his tenure, losing six games on the trot. but a mid-season turnaround has seen Inter Miami win four of their last half a dozen matches.

Phil Neville has a string of poor results as manager of the Lionesses before joining Inter Miami


Rio Ferdinand has established himself as a United legend, winning six league titles and a Champions League in 455 appearances for the club. 

The defender however benefitted from Nemanja Vidic’s arrival two-and-a-half years on from Ronaldo’s Bolton debut. 

Ferdinand formed a formidable partnership with the Serb, which saw the duo win three consecutive titles in the latter’s first three full seasons. 

Rio Ferdinand joined the BT Sport punditry team after leaving Man United as a club legend

The England international left Old Trafford for an ill-fated stint with Queens Park Rangers in 2014. A year on her retired but then had the world’s shortest boxing career, being forced to hang up his gloves before he had the chance to use them.

That was because he was denied a professional boxing license by the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC) in 2018.

Ferdinand however is now known for having turned to punditry for BT Sport, as well as featuring on his own Vibe With Five YouTube channel.


The Frenchman isn’t one of the greatest names in United’s history books but he did manage an impressive 361 outings over a nine-year period.

Match facts 


FA Premiership; August 16, 2003 

Manchester United: Tim Howard; Phil Neville, Quinton Fortune, Rio Ferdinand, Mikael Silvestre; Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (Eric Djemba-Djemba 67), Roy Keane, Nicky Butt (Cristiano Ronaldo 61), Ryan Giggs (Diego Forlan 80); Paul Scholes; Ruud van Nistelrooy

Substitutes not used: Roy Carroll (GK); John O’Shea

Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson

Scorers: Giggs 35, 73; Scholes 77; Van Nistelrooy 86

Bolton Wanderers: Jussi Jaaskelainen; Nicky Hunt, Florent Laville, Bruno N’Gotty, Ricardo Gardner, Stelios Giannakopoulos (Delroy Facey 76), Jay-Jay Okocha, Ivan Campo, Kevin Nolan (Per Frandsen 72), Henrik Pedersen (Youri Djorkaeff 59), Kevin Davies

Substitutes not used: Kevin Poole, Anthony Barness

Manager: Sam Allardyce

Booked: N’Gotty, Giannakopoulos, Nolan, Gardner

Attendance: 67,647

Referee: Paul Durkin (Dorset)  

Silvestre was a regular for Ferguson during this era but was eventually fazed out before joining rivals Arsenal in 2008. 

Following additional stints with Werder Bremen in Germany, Portland Timbers in the MLS and Chennaiyin FC in India, he retired in 2014 having also earned 40 caps for his country.

After retirement, Silvestre joined Ligue 1 club Rennes as their director of football but left the job in December 2016 by mutual consent.

He was a Director of Football with Sports Invest UK from 2018 until February this year and owns distillery business named Rhum St. Barth.

We could also see Silvestre take to a managerial role as he has studied for his UEFA A Licence coaching qualification and a sports management degree. 


Despite being more of a natural central midfielder, Fortune managed to carve out a place at left-back under Ferguson’s tenure. 

With the likes of Roy Keane and Paul Scholes in the side, the South African was never going to secure a spot in midfield but he did manage to comfortably, although not spectacularly, maintain his spot at full back. 

However, Fortune never managed to set Old Trafford alight and, ironically, was shipped out to Bolton Wanderers after seven years with the club. 

The former Bafana Bafana international has since had a nomadic playing career turning out for Bolton, Brescia and AFC Tubize before retiring after a short spell in England’s lower leagues with Doncaster.

As one of the few South Africans to have graced the Premier League, Fortune returned to United in a coaching capacity. He was the assistant U23 coach at the club before leaving to take up the position of first-team coach at Reading last year. 


One of the most notable members of this side, Solskjaer will be in the dugout when Ronaldo makes his second debut. 

Solskjaer obtained hero status for his 93rd-minute strike in the 1999 Champions League final that sealed United’s historic Treble.

The Norwegian’s latter years at the club were marred by injury but he still managed 127 goals for United between 1996 and 2007 before retiring. 

The 48-year-old’s career continued to be intertwined with the Red Devils as he coached the academy side between 2008 and 2011 before taking the main hotseat at Old Trafford in 2018 after managerial stints at Molde and Cardiff City.

Solskjaer has yet to win silverware at the club since becoming boss but with Ronaldo in his side and a second-place finish last term he must be more hopeful than ever of silverware returning to the club. 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (right) will be in the dugout for the Portuguese talent’s second debut


A bona fide United legend, Keane is one of the most iconic, not to mention controversial, figures of English football. 

The Irishman was nearing the end of his glory days at Old Trafford when Ronaldo featured against Bolton. 

His influence was already beginning to wane before he made an abrupt exit two years later following an infamous MUTV rant in October 2005 following a 4-1 defeat by Middlesbrough – and in which he criticised several of his team-mates – that never made it to air. 

Keane then signed for Celtic, where he played under former Red Devils midfielder Gordon Strachan. But his career at his old boyhood club didn’t pan out the way he intended and after only 13 appearances he announced his retirement in June 2006. 

After assisting Martin O’Neill as coach with Ireland and Nottingham Forest, Keane now graces our TV screens rating, and often slating, the stars of today.

Roy Keane is now a fan favourite as a member of the ITV and Sky Sports punditry teams


Butt was replaced by Ronaldo in the 61st minute as the future United legend came on to dazzle in his Old Trafford debut.

A member of the class of ’92, Butt expressed his desire to leave United after over a decade at the club and handed in a transfer request in January of that season. 

He secured a move to Newcastle United in the summer but ended his career in England in the second tier after being relegated with the Magpies in 2009 before dabbling in Hong Kong with South China and eventually retiring. 

Butt is another former Red Devil to flock back to Old Trafford in the wake of his playing days. Working alongside his former team-mate Solskjaer, Butt is now head of first-team development, as well as co-owner of League Two side Salford. 

Ronaldo replaces Nicky Butt (left) with half-an-hour left as United look to kill off the contest


In 2003, Giggs was still an electric winger lighting up Ferguson’s side before rebranding as a deep-lying midfielder later in his career. 

Giggs ended his illustrious career on the pitch in 2014 after an astonishing 963 appearances, winning 13 league titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups, two Champions Leagues and a Sports Personality of the Year. 

The Welshman eventually left the club after a 29-year association. He had been assistant manager to Louis van Gaal for two years before the Dutchman was sacked but was reportedly disappointed to have not been named as his successor after Jose Mourinho arrived at the club.

Giggs left to head up Wales’s Euro 2020 qualifying campaign in 2018. However, the 47-year-old was charged in April this year with coercive control and actual bodily harm in relation to his ex-girlfriend and was also charged with assault by beating relating to a second woman.

He is awaiting trial for the charges in January 2022.

Ryan Giggs side-foots home his and United’s second goal to effectively seal the three points


A Man United academy graduate and club legend, Scholes played for the club throughout his life, making 718 appearances for United, bettered only by Giggs and Sir Bobby Carlton. 

The midfielder even came out of retirement in January 2012 to play for another 18 months and won yet another league title before finally calling it quits for good in 2013.

The former England international managed his boyhood club Oldham Athletic in 2019 but the stint was short-lived as he left a month later.

Scholes is another member of the class of ’92 to co-own Salford and in October 2020, he took over as the interim manager but left in November after the appointment of Richie Vellen as the club’s new coach. 

He has also appeared more intermittently as a pundit on BT Sport, covering United’s European fixtures over the last few years. 

Paul Scholes scores United’s third goal as they begin to coast in the closing stages of the game


A prolific goal scorer, Van Nistlerooy became one on the most lethal members of Ferguson’s squad. His exploits in front of goal saw him net 150 goals and safeguard his place in United folklore. 

It therefore came as a shock when the penalty box poacher was allowed to depart for Real Madrid in 2006. But his exit allowed Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney to dazzle even brighter at Old Trafford. 

He scored 64 goals in 96 games for Madrid and was briefly reunited with Ronaldo at the Santiago Bernabeu for a year before he was sold to Hamburg in 2010.

A season at Malaga came before he called it quits on a career which was blighted a serious knee injury. 

Van Nistlerooy was appointed as PSV’s U21 head coach earlier this year after three years with the Eredivisie side’s U18 team.

Ruud van Nistelrooy, who’d earlier seen a penalty saved, hammers home United’s fourth goal



Ferguson turned to his bench for the second time just six minutes after Ronaldo was introduced when he subbed Djemba-Djemba on for Solskjaer.

However, while Ronaldo soared, Djemba-Djemba flopped at Old Trafford. He had been billed as Roy Keane’s successor when he arrived in 2003 but never lived up to the expectation.  

The Cameroonian midfielder’s career at United only lasted two seasons before Ferguson owned up to a rare transfer mistake and sold him to Aston Villa. 

Djemba-Djemba has played for eleven clubs since leaving United, including Burnley, Qatar SC, St Mirren and most recently fifth-tier Swiss outfit FC Vallorbe-Ballaigues.

Eric Djemba-Djemba became Sir Alex Ferguson’s second substitute of the opening day clash


The Uruguayan never made the cut at United, spending just two seasons at Old Trafford. The desire for more playing time saw him secure a move to Villareal in 2004.

He later enjoyed success at Atletico Madrid who signed him in the summer of 2007 following the departure of Fernando Torres to Liverpool. 

He recorded 38 strikes in the 2008-09 season which saw him awarded the La Liga Golden Boot, while also finishing joint top-scorer with Thomas Muller, Wesley Sneijder and David Villa and winning the Golden Ball at the 2010 World Cup for Uruguay.

The third and final substitute on that day, Diego Forlan (left) didn’t make the cut at United

Similarly to Butt, Forlan spent a season in Hong Kong with Kitchee SC before retiring in 2018. 

In 2019, Forlan joined Uruguayan club Penarol as their head coach but was sacked in September 2020, but did help United out by recommending Facundo Pellistri to them. 

In 2021, he took charge of Club Atletico Atenas in his home country, with the club playing in the second division. They currently sit sixth in the table with four wins from 11 games.

Forlan scored for Atletico Madrid in the 2010 Europa League to beat English side Fulham 

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