August 16, 2003: Manchester United are 1-0 up against Bolton Wanderers and Cristiano Ronaldo comes on in the 61st minute for his debut. The score ends 4-0, and yet that’s not the main talking point.
We all know exactly what Ronaldo has gone on to achieve since his United debut: an abundance of success and no less.
Regularly described as one of the best footballers of all time, the Portuguese international is arguably Sir Alex Ferguson’s biggest triumph. Despite now being 36 years old, he has stayed at the very highest level, continuing to break records every season.
However, the same success hasn’t been as prevalent for some of the players who featured in that 4-0 win against Bolton. Obviously, Ronaldo is, as often described by Thierry Henry, a “freak”.
But what did happen next for the line-up that day in 2003?
Goalkeeper: Tim Howard
Manchester United appearances: 77
Current club: Memphis 901 FC
The USMNT international had a mixed period at United. Starting out by saving an Arsenal penalty in the Community Shield to win it for his team but a massive mistake against Porto in the UEFA Champions League saw him dropped and replaced by Roy Carroll.
He didn’t exactly convince, however, and both saw their game time limited by the signing of Edwin van der Sar. Howard then went on to join Everton on loan and signed for them permanently in 2007. After a successful tenure on Merseyside, Howard left nine years later for Major League Soccer after cementing his place in the club’s history. The legendary goalkeeper finally called time on his playing career in October 2019 after three years with Colorado Rapids.
He then made a sensational U-turn in 2020 and now turns out for Memphis 901 FC in the USL Championship, with whom he serves as sporting director and minority owner.
Right-back: Phil Neville
Manchester United appearances: 386
Current club: Inter Miami manager and co-owner of Salford City.
Phil is fondly remembered by United fans, he won a ridiculous number of trophies with the club and, just before Howard, moved to Everton in 2005, becoming a favourite amongst the supporters there too.
Neville became Valencia assistant coach in July 2015 and worked alongside his brother Gary in a spell that won’t be remembered for the right reasons. He left the Spanish club in June the following year.
He would later find himself back in management, appointed manager of England Women’s national team on January 17 2018. Under Neville, the Lionesses won the 2019 SheBelieves Cup and finished fourth at the World Cup.
In January 2021 he stepped down from the position and was recently appointed head coach of Inter Miami, a club owned by his Salford City co-owner David Beckham.
Centre-back: Rio Ferdinand
Manchester United appearances: 455
Current role: Pundit
In 2003, he was still establishing himself in the team. Now, he’s regarded as one of their greatest ever players. He went on to play for the club until 2014 and won a bunch of honours along the way, including the Premier League six times and the Champions League on one occasion.
The ex-England international is now enjoying his retirement by working for BT Sport as a pundit.
Centre back: Mikael Silvestre
Manchester United appearances: 361
Current role: Retired
One of the notable players from Ronaldo’s debut is Silvestre – but for all of the wrong reasons.
The Frenchman stayed at the club until 2008, making a number of appearances for France but never reached that top-level of performance – he was just, at best, fairly reliable.
Silvestre went on to join Arsenal in 2008 and is remembered as one of the club’s worst-ever signings during what is called by their supporters as the ‘banter era’.
He left in 2010, joining Werder Bremen where he played 31 times in two years before making the move to Portland Timbers for a year and then had his last football spell in India for Chennaiyin, retiring in 2014.
After hanging up his boots, Silvestre became Rennes sporting director in July 2015 before leaving the post by mutual consent in December the following year.
Left-back: Quinton Fortune
Manchester United appearances: 126
Ah, Quinton Fortune. The footballer that no United fan is proud to talk about – bit harsh really.
He never really established himself as a solid part of the squad, mostly recognised by the fact that the club won the Premier League three times while he was there and he didn’t ever play the 10-game requirement to be given a medal. Despite that, he did actually get given one because he played nine-times in the 2002/03 season, so they let him have one, essentially for the bants.
The South African international never made more than 10 appearances for a single club again after leaving in 2006. He stayed in England, going to Bolton for a season before short spells at Brescia, Tubize and, randomly, Doncaster Rovers.
What a guy.
Right-midfield: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Manchester United appearances: 366
Current role: Manchester United manager
The man who scored the winner in the 1999 Champions League final will always be remembered as a club legend. He stayed there until 2007 before retiring, and he is now back at the club as manager after replacing Jose Mourinho in 2018.
The Norwegian striker carried on at United in a coaching role with the reserves before going onto manage the senior Molde side.
After being relegated with Cardiff City during a short spell back in England, Solskjaer probably never believed he would later return to Old Trafford as manager. His fine start to life as United’s interim boss landed Solskjaer the permanent job and he now has the club up to second in the Premier League table.
Central midfield: Roy Keane
Manchester United appearances: 480
Current role: Pundit
Keane played for United until 2005 and then joined Celtic for a season before diving straight into management. He had huge success with Sunderland in the Championship, guiding them to promotion before establishing them in the Premier League but left in his second top division season at the club.
He then went on to manage Ipswich Town but had little success in the 20 months that he was at the club and was sacked for their poor position in the league table.
Keane was assistant manager of both Aston Villa and Republic of Ireland, although he left the former to concentrate on the role with his home nation. He then joined Martin O’Neill in the same role at Nottingham Forest at the start of 2019, but lasted only until the summer.
Central midfield: Nicky Butt
Manchester United appearances: 387
Current role: Co-owner of Salford City and Man Utd head of first-team development
The former United man was a regular in every season he played at the club but left in 2004 for Newcastle United, where he spent six years before joining Birmingham City on a season-long loan and then ended his career in East Asia playing for South China.
He is now head of Manchester United’s first-team development, helping players transition from the youth team to senior squad, having previously been in charge of the academy.
Left midfield: Ryan Giggs
Manchester United appearances: 963
Current role: Manager of Wales
The Welshman – noted by many as the club’s greatest ever player – went on to play for United until 2014, making a ridiculous number of appearances (963, to be exact).
He had a lot of success with the club until the day he stopped playing, where he took a role as coach/assistant manager before having a short spell as club manager.
Giggs was appointed as the Wales national team manager in 2018.
Attacking midfield: Paul Scholes
Manchester United appearances: 718
Current role: Co-owner of Salford City and pundit
Scholes is another who had a silly career for all the right reasons.
The 5 ft 6 midfield maestro commanded the middle of the park for United for years and enjoyed his time there so much that he rejoined just a year after his retirement – still as much of a baller as he was before.
Scholes is currently co-owner of Salford City and enjoys the occasional punditry appearance. He did have a spell in charge of Oldham Athletic in early 2019, but that lasted just seven games.
Striker: Ruud van Nistelrooy
Manchester United appearances: 219
Current: Netherlands assistant manager and PSV Under-19 coach
The Dutchman is nothing less than a goalscoring machine – he bagged 150 goals in 219 appearances for United. Van Nistelrooy left in 2006 for Real Madrid and won a brace of LaLiga titles before playing out the remainder of his career at Hamburg and Malaga, retiring in 2012.
He has since been involved in coaching roles, including at Ajax and currently the Netherlands, as well as manager of the PSV youth side.
Manchester United appearances: 39
Current club: FC Vallorbe-Ballaigues
Djemba-Djemba – so good that they named him twice. That’s the saying, right?
He played just 39 times for United over two seasons and left for Aston Villa, not really going on to have the most illustrious of careers – he made just 11 appearances for the Midlands club.
Since then, the Cameroonian international has played for Burnley, Qatar SC, Odense Boldklub, Hapoel Tel-Aviv, Partizan, St. Mirren, Chennaiyin, Persebaya Surabaya, Persipa Padalarang and now FC Vallorbe-Ballaigues, who he joined in 2016.
We’ll let you be the judge of his career.
Manchester United appearances: 292
Current club: Juventus
Ronaldo has had a stupid amount of success since making his debut for United, winning the UEFA Champions League with the Manchester side as well as four times with Real. He has broken a ridiculous number of records and has been successful at international level, winning the European Championship with Portugal in 2016.
Now at Juventus, the forward is going to go down in history as one of the greatest footballers to ever live, without any doubt.
Manchester United appearances: 98
Current: Most recently managed Penarol
The Uruguayan’s spell at United will always go down as a disappointment. He failed to establish himself as the goalscoring machine that he was purchased to be, spending just two seasons at the club.
Forlan became a bit of a journeyman after his spell in Manchester but did regain success at both club and international level, scoring plenty of goals for both Villarreal and Atletico Madrid. He then went to Inter Milan where signs of his ability dipping began to show before moving to Internacional, Cerezo Osaka, Penarol, Mumbai City and Kitchee before retiring. Forlan was most recently in charge of Penarol in the Uruguayan Primera Division, but was sacked in September.
He also made over 100 appearances for his nation as well as winning the Golden Ball at the World Cup in 2010. He became the all-time top scorer until Luis Suarez overtook him.
Manchester United appearances: 72
Current: Dungannon Swifts
Carroll’s most famous moment in a United shirt was a howler – which pretty much sums up his time at the club.
The Northern Ireland international was at the Red Devils until 2005 and left for an unsuccessful spell at West Ham, going on to play for nine teams after that, including Dungannon Swifts, with whom he now represents in the NIFL Premiership.
Perhaps a signing to forget for the Sir Alex era.
Manchester United appearances: 393
Current: First-team coach at Reading
O’Shea is an odd one – a bang average player but one who made just under 400 appearances for United over 12-years. He was regularly involved, winning a load of honours with the club including the Champions League and has five Premier League medals to his name.
He had a couple of loan spells at Bournemouth and Royal Antwerp before leaving to join Sunderland in 2011. A year at Reading preceded his retirement, but Shea remains a coach at the Royals.