Ex-Portsmouth midfielder Richard Hughes: Manchester United's Ronaldo was sent off for headbutting me - and it's one of my career highlights

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It is among the more unusual footballing claims to fame, nonetheless embraced by Richard Hughes.

For the ex-Pompey midfielder was once on the receiving end of a Ronaldo headbutt, earning the Portuguese superstar a Fratton Park red card.

In the 2020 book Played Up Pompey Three, Hughes reveals the truth behind the August 2007 incident he credits as one of the ‘highlights’ of his career.

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During his first Manchester United spell, Ronaldo was given his marching orders by referee Steve Bennett late on in a 1-1 draw with Harry Redknapp’s men.

And at the centre of it was Hughes, who admits it’s a footballing memory he treasures.

‘I’m not someone who scored loads of goals, so I have to remember other landmarks.

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‘Should I ever meet people who don’t necessarily remember me playing Premier League football, I can always tell them that one of the game’s greats headbutted me.

Cristiano Ronaldo is pointed to the dressing room by referee Steve Bennett after sending him off at Fratton Park in August 2007. Picture: Mike Hewitt/Getty ImagesCristiano Ronaldo is pointed to the dressing room by referee Steve Bennett after sending him off at Fratton Park in August 2007. Picture: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Cristiano Ronaldo is pointed to the dressing room by referee Steve Bennett after sending him off at Fratton Park in August 2007. Picture: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

‘Sir Alex Ferguson afterwards said Ronaldo shouldn’t get involved with inferior players. He was absolutely right, I am an inferior player. Did I take offence? Well, 99 per cent of the footballing world is inferior to Cristiano Ronaldo, so I had absolutely no problem with that!

‘On that particular occasion, having come off the bench, my instructions were to pick up Ronaldo from set-pieces. I knew if he had a run on the ball then his jump was unbelievable.

‘So when a corner was about to be taken, I deliberately moved towards him to make us collide, yet portrayed it as accidental while the ball sailed over our heads.

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‘He knew what I was up to – I was blocking his ability to get a run on the cross. Then another corner opportunity arrived – and this time he was looking out for me.

‘Ronaldo went to push me off, so I flipped his hand away and the timing was perfect, he came stumbling forward and landed against my chest. “Get off” I shouted as he was in my face, typical footballers behaving like stags.

‘Now I wasn’t interested in a head-to-head altercation, so he had to come in a little closer – and, when he did, he popped against the side of my head.

‘He didn't mean to headbutt me, but went in aggressively and ended up doing just that. I don’t actually think he should have been sent off, but it did make a sound and the referee Steve Bennett was right there next to us.

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‘I was conscious not to make a huge deal of it, I didn’t go down, but shouted “Ref, is he allowed to do that?”. “No” said Bennett – and Ronaldo was shown the red card.

‘Suddenly I was having this out-of-body experience, this was going to be big news and I was asking myself whether I had done anything wrong. Could I be charged afterwards? Well, I didn't even receive a booking.

‘Ronaldo could have been a huge influence in that game and I was delighted. Anyone who tells you they don’t want to see a fellow pro dismissed is talking nonsense.’

The corresponding league game took place in January 2008 at Old Trafford.

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With Richard Hughes once again named on the bench, Ronaldo struck twice as the Red Devils raced into a two-goal lead after 13 minutes, including a stunning 30-yard free-kick.

The scoreline remained 2-0 when Hughes was introduced for Milan Baros with 12 minutes left.

He added: ‘The game was already decided when I came on – then Ronaldo approached me one-on-one.

‘He put his foot on the ball and walked towards me, so I’m thinking “He’s going to show me up in front of 75,000 people here”.

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‘I don’t actually know whether what happened next was a consequence of what had previously occurred. He was standing there, touching the ball, so I decided to pretend I wasn’t interested - then dived in.

‘Before I knew what had happened, David James was pulling off a world-class save and I thought “What happened there?”.

‘Ronaldo had delivered his retribution.’

Richard Hughes made 165 appearances for Pompey and scored three times from June 2002 until June 2011.

Played Up Pompey Three is available from Waterstone’s, Pompey’s club shop and Amazon.

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Played Up Pompey (paperback) and Pompey: The Island City With A Football Club For A Heart are also on sale from the above.

Alternatively, contact [email protected] for copies autographed by those featured in the books, including the signatures of Michael Doyle and Benjani.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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