Manchester United Hall of Fame- Ruud Van Nistelrooy
One of the most prolific goal scorers in European football, Ruud van Nistelrooy’s exploits at Old Trafford put him firmly in the heart of United folklore. It was when he signed for PSV Eindhoven from Heerenveen for £4.2million, a then record fee between Dutch clubs, that he began to take the Eridivisie by storm. In two seasons van Nistelrooy hit 60 goals for PSV, alerting Europe’s top clubs, including United and Real Madrid. His goals-to-games ratio was quite simply exceptional.
Sir Alex was determined to sign van Nistelrooy. So much so, he kept in contact with the player for a year as he recovered from the cruciate knee ligament injury he suffered whilst training with PSV. The setback came days after failing a medical with United in April 2000. After a remarkable recovery, he finally signed for the Reds in April 2001 for around £19m – a bargain when this fee is put into context at the time of the transfer; players such as Vieri, Crespo and Figo had all been transferred for sums in excess of £30m.
The tall Dutchman struck 100 goals in his first three seasons in Manchester. He overtook United legend Denis Law’s title as the club’s all-time top scorer in European competition in his fourth campaign, and by the end of his fifth year at Old Trafford he’d reached 150 goals in fewer than 200 starts.
Ruud netted 36 goals in his debut season, a frightening achievement that was incredibly eclipsed in the 2002/03 season as he scored 44 times to inspire United to the Premiership title. Another 30 goals followed in his third season. Injury ruined his 2004/05 campaign, although he still scored 16 goals in 27 appearances and finished top scorer in the Champions League with eight goals.
The 2005/06 campaign was also tempered with disappointment. Ten goals in 12 games saw Ruud get off to a flyer. By December he had 17 goals from 26 starts. But the return to form and fitness of Louis Saha saw van Nistelrooy edged out of the side.
During his time with the Reds, van Nistelrooy scored some memorable goals; including a sublime finish against Fulham at Old Trafford whereby he received the ball on the halfway line before turning to head towards goal, beating several players in the process and nonchalantly tucking the ball past Maik Taylor.
Another moment, which will be fondly thought of amongst the United faithful, was when he was introduced in an FA Cup tie at Villa Park when the Reds were in a losing position. He single-handedly turned the tie around with two fantastic finishes, ensuring United’s progression in the competition.
After picking up a series of niggling injuries and struggling to find his best form at times, van Nistelrooy’s United career started to dwindle. Rumours of interest from other top European clubs were becoming rife, and his relationship with Sir Alex had appeared to have hit a rocky patch. He was an unused substitute in the Carling Cup final win and wasn’t included in the squad to face Charlton on the final day of the season, with Sir Alex citing issues around “the spirit of the club” as the reason for Ruud’s exclusion.
The Dutch striker left Old Trafford in the summer of 2006 and headed to Spain to join Real Madrid before moving onto Germany with Hamburg SV. He now plies his trade at super-rich Malaga CF in the Primera Liga, proof that Ruud can still do the business at the top level of the game despite being 35 years of age.
In recent times, he stated in an interview that he and Sir Alex have patched up their differences and are now on speaking terms. Something most United fans will be pleased to hear, as it can only increase the likelihood of him returning to Old Trafford in some capacity in the future whether it be charity matches, or even in a coaching role if he decides to remain in the game when he retires.
Ruud Van Nistelrooy
Debut: 12 Aug 2001 v Liverpool (N)
Last Match: 01 Apr 2006 v Bolton (A)
Premier League: 02/03
Community Shield: 03
League Cup: 05/06
FA Cup: 03/04
About Steve Williams.
A massive Manchester United fan, Steve is a relative newcomer to the blogging world but a longstanding reader. Having played in Premier League Academies himself, Steven takes a keen interest in youth/reserve football at Manchester United away from the first team.