Aston Villa manager Gerard Houllier has reaffirmed the story that he spotted Cristiano Ronaldo first when he was managing Liverpool before Manchester United snapped up the player.

“I saw him in the Toulon Under-21 tournament and we went for him, but we had a wage scale and we weren’t paying the sort of salary he wanted,” said Houllier.

“Then Manchester United played a friendly against Sporting Lisbon and all their boys said to Sir Alex Ferguson, “You have to sign him”. But I agreed with not breaking the wage structure. I thought it would cause problems in our dressing room.

“I know some of the signings were not as sharp as they could have been. Maybe we would have won the title with Ronaldo, but we had Harry Kewell, who was outstanding at the time and was very hungry but got a bad injury. After that, he never had the same confidence, the same appetite.”

Aston Villa will meet Liverpool on Monday night at a BPL match.

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Lionel Messi was rewarded for a stunning year in which he helped Barcelona to an unprecedented six trophies by being named FIFA’s World Player of the Year.

The 22-year-old won the award for the first time, beating last year’s winner Cristiano Ronaldo, his two clubmates Andres Iniesta and Xavi and Brazil midfielder Kaka. He was presented with the trophy at a glittering awards gala in Zurich.

Also, the FIFA/FIFPro World XI, voted by members of the international professional footballers’ union FIFPro:

Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), John Terry (Chelsea), Nemanja Vidic (Man Utd), Patrice Evra (Man Utd), Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Xavi (Barcelona), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Fernando Torres (Liverpool).

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Manchester United star Cristiano Ronaldo has won the 2008 Ballon d’Or award ahead of Lionel Messi and Fernando Torres.

Ronaldo was the clear favourite to land the prestigious prize after a remarkable year at Old Trafford. The powerful attacker netted 42 goals last season as the Red Devils claimed Premier League and UEFA Champions League glory.

He is already FIFPro World Player of the Year and also took the top prizes from the Professional Footballers’ Association and the Football Writers last term.

The Portugal winger is the first United player to win the Ballon d’Or since George Best in 1968 and the first from his country since Luis Figo in 2000.

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Manchester United claimed a comfortable 3-0 victory against Liverpool to edge closer to their Premier League title, thanks to some uncharacteristic play by Liverpool players.

Both sides were pretty even in the first 15 minutes, but United started to show more control later on, with Paul Scholes bossing the midfield.

Headers from Wes Brown gave United the lead on 34th minute, thanks to a mistake from Liverpool’s goalie Pepe Reina. Javier Mascherano made United’s life much easier by getting himself sent off just before half time with his second yellow card for dissent.

United continued to dominate the match in the second half. Liverpool did show a flash of hope in the 70s minute, but Ronaldo’s 79th minute header ended their hope altogether, before Nani pounced in United’s third on 81st minute.

It was Ronaldo’s 34th goal (25th league goal) of the season, and his first ever goal against Liverpool.

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