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Quinton Fortune tells all about first Ronaldo encounter, reveals surprise at Man Utd signing and Fergie’s ‘touch of class gesture’ two years ago

| 05.05.2022

In an exclusive interview with Quinton Fortune, the South African told us about his first meeting with Cristiano Ronaldo, his surprise at being signed by Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson’s gesture when he took on a coaching role at Reading. 

Fortune was speaking ahead of the launch of the 5-A-Side bet for Saturday’s clash between United and Brighton.

Ronaldo told us he was going to be the best in the world when he was a teenager – after that pre-season game against Sporting, we were all saying the same thing

I’ve seen the work Cristiano [Ronaldo] puts in; I’ve seen it first-hand. The determination, the desire, the mindset, you name it, he’s got it. He just brings that confidence and belief, whether he’s 17 or 37.

I remember when he arrived at the club in 2003, he told us that he was going to be the best. That mindset, and the way he’s trained since then, putting weights around his ankles and doing stepovers, going to the gym every day, fine-tuning every single part of his game… it’s absolutely unbelievable. If any player, young or old, is looking for guidance, there’s your man!

Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid 2009

Cristiano was 17 when he joined up with us at Manchester United – and obviously the move came off the back of that pre-season friendly we played against Sporting Lisbon. Personally, I didn’t know anything about him to be totally honest with you. We just knew we were playing against Sporting in the opening of their new stadium. We’d just come back from a tour of America, and that was it.

As the game went on – and luckily I’m playing on the other side of the pitch when this is happening – this kid just stands out instantly to us. He’s doing all of these tricks, he’s quick on the ball, he’s putting in these amazing crosses. I’m just thinking ‘wow, who’s that kid?’

Half-time comes around and no one is really saying anything about him, because we’re all so focused in doing our jobs, even in a pre-season game. But Cristiano Ronaldo was extra special. Some of the stuff he was doing, he really put on a show for everyone that day. You couldn’t pay too much attention to it during the game, but at the same time it was hard not to notice the things he was doing.

And then after the game, you could see in the dressing room, all of us were thinking the same thing: “who’s that, and can we get him?” And the rest is history – thank God we managed to sign him.

I found out Man United were interested in me on the night they won the treble

I was watching the Champions League final with my agent in Madrid, back in 1999. We were celebrating with Manchester United when they turned things around in the final minutes. We were happy they’d just beaten Bayern Munich – and then he told me at full-time that the club was interested in signing me. “Hold on a minute, I’m watching this team winning the treble and you’re telling me they might want to sign me? Why in the world would this side be interested in little old me from Atletico Madrid?”

Teddy Sheringham, Manchester United

But that was it. Talks went on from there and the next thing I know, I’m at The Cliff, the old training ground – and it just blew me away. You think of that Manchester United team, all of the players they had, the manager, and you just assume they must have the most amazing facilities. You don’t know exactly what to expect but you know it’s going to be impressive. But no, there was just one training pitch. That was it. I couldn’t believe it. These guys had won the treble with one training pitch! You look at clubs now and the amount of facilities they’ve got at the training grounds are crazy – but they just had that one pitch.

It just shows you the team sprit they had. The togetherness is what saw them enjoy so much success. There was so much respect in that changing room. For me, it was a real eye-opener. The way they behaved,and the way they trained, the mindset they had – it was so great to be a part of.

I remember my first chat with Fergie for one sole reason… I couldn’t understand a word he was saying!

Everyone remembers their first conversation with Sir Alex [Ferguson]. For me, I had trouble understanding what he was saying because of that strong Scottish accent. In that first meeting, whatever he said to me I just said yes! I just nodded my head and went along with whatever he was saying because I couldn’t understand him.

Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson, Champions League

From that moment, I was only ever focused on working as hard as possible for him, keeping my head down and not getting carried away. As long as you were working hard for your team-mates, you were in Sir Alex’s good books. That’s one thing everyone will tell you about him; show him you’re working hard and following his standards and he’ll reward you with opportunities. I wanted to play and be a part of the team because there were so many great players around the place – I wanted to be a part of it. Every day was a ‘wow’ moment for me, not only because of my team-mates, but because of the manager I was representing.

Fergie called me up to give me advice when I took up a coaching role at Reading

The boss [Sir Alex Ferguson] just has this unrivalled awareness of knowing what to say in the right moment. He’s an amazing man; there’s nothing else I can say to describe him.

I still get calls from him even to this day. When I joined Reading as a coach, I don’t know how he found out as quickly as he did, but he gave me a call out of the blue. I was just like ‘how does the boss know what I’m doing? Who told him?’ He just called to give me some advice before I stepped into the role. He makes you feel 20 times taller, and that conversation just gave me so much confidence stepping into my new role.

He didn’t have to do that, but it’s just one of many examples of that awareness he has about his former players. Just think, there are so many players he’s coached. I’ve no doubt he’s doing the same with them as well. I count myself very fortunate to say that the boss took the time to give me a call and offer me advice on coaching. It was truly amazing.

I had pictures of Roy Keane on my wall before I signed for United, but I never told him!

Trust me, it took me a while to get over the fact that I was playing with some of my favourite players in the world when I first joined Manchester United. When I was 14, I had pictures of all of my favourite players on my wall. Roy Keane was one of them, as were Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole, and then all of a sudden I’m playing alongside them!

Roy Keane, Raul, Zinedine Zidane, Manchester United

No chance would I have ever told Keano that I had his picture on my wall – absolutely no chance! You got his respect by working hard, day in, day out. If you did your job, you were in his good books. He’s a great guy and an amazing captain, I can’t speak highly enough of him. To have played in the same team as some of these guys, for me, was just mind-blowing. They made it easy for me. You’re training every day with the best players in the world, so by the time matchday came around, things were much easier.

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Author

Alex Apati

Alex has been with the Ladbrokes PR team since 2017 having previously worked for the news department. From sparring with Peter Fury to talking interviews on the Duke and Duchess' baby names, he's covered a range of sports and novelty events.

A frustrated West Brom fan who is no stranger to an oche, Alex is originally from Dudley, although he's worked hard to rid himself of the Black Country twang.