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Appreciating Ruud Van Nistelrooy

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The date was April 1st 2006. The venue was the Reebok Stadium. The ball was in the back of the net for a 2-1 win. Nobody inside or outside the ground realized at the time that goal would be Ruud van Nistelrooy’s 150th and final Manchester United goal.

He would go onto leave the club just after the end of the 2005/06 season in somewhat expected circumstances.  Being edged out of the starting 11 in place of firing Frenchman Louis Saha and following a training ground bust up with Cristiano Ronaldo it signalled the end for him as he left Old Trafford being replaced by young Giuseppe Rossi as punishment.

Despite all this Ruud van Nistelrooy will go down as Sir Alex Ferguson’s most prolific striker in his tenure at the club.

Ferguson was desperate the land the Dutch star so desperate that he waited a year longer to acquire his services as van Nistelrooy recovered from ruptured cruciate knee ligaments back in 2000. A year later Ferguson finally got his man for a whopping £19 million. The Dutchman downplayed the hefty price-tag stating :

“The price is not heavy for me – it lifts me up because it means United have big confidence in me.”

How right he was. In an instant he was a hit with the fans, scoring twice on his debut as United came from behind twice to defeat Fulham 3-2. Strangely enough his countryman Edwin Van Der Sar was between the sticks that day for the Cottagers. And to think he could have been playing for United that day had Sir Alex opted to sign him when Peter Schiemchel left instead of Mark Bosnich.

In his first season van Nistelrooy notched up 23 goals in 32 league games. An impressive tally and an instant impact. That very season he even broke records.  He scored in 8 consecutive games to go ahead Mark Stein (an average player for Chelsea), Alan Shearer and Thierry Henry.  He also ended the season with the PFA player of the year award. Sadly his season ended a  trophyless one as  United finished 3rd in the Premier League and cruelly went out in the semi-finals of the Champions League to Bayer Leverkusen on the away-goals rule.

Despite that Van Nistelrooy continued where he left off the following season. Scoring 25 times to reclaim the Premier League being the figurehead of the celebratory that was the seson that ‘’we’ve got our trophy back’’.

Although a barren spell of success for Manchester United followed he continued with impressive goal scoring form. 16 goals his lowest tally in an injury plagued season. His biggest tally of 44 goals in 2002-2003 season has yet to be matched with Ronaldo coming close in the 2007-2008 season 2 short of equalling the Dutchman’s record.

The great thing about van Nistelrooy was the fact he could pop up with a goal from anywhere. He wasn’t a Hernandez type player. People have stated his majority of goals were tap in’s when in fact it was quite unpredictable. He could score every type of goal. He was great in the air, could score with both feet and  he was as strong as an ox in the box too.

Whenever a Ryan Giggs or David Beckham cross was whipped into the box you could bet your house on the big Dutchman getting on the end of it some way or another. His penalty taking duties were not to be underestimated either immediately taking the responsibility only missing 5 in total. His most costly being in stoppage time in 0-0 draw with Arsenal which would have stopped them going unbeaten that season and could very well have changed the destiny of the whole league season.

Despite that you could never write Ruud off. He wasn’t one of the now big players who ‘don’t perform against the big teams.’  He scored against Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool in the league. He scored in the big Champions League games too (Real Madrid and Leverkusen examples).

 But his most memorable moment in a Manchester United shirt came at home to Fulham in March 2003 in what was a routine home win for United.

Picking the ball up in the centre circle and shrugging (or elbowing depening on your view of the incident) off Sylvain Legwinski, he raced towards goal. He seemed to know where every Fulham defender was yet had only one thing in his mind. Motoring his way past another challenge he beat two more Fulham defenders before teasing Fulham veteran Andy Melville into a challenge beating him and taking the control and shot in one movement past an astonished Maik Taylor.

Even Ruud was stunned. His celebration chose to go to the crowd mouth open. Gobsmacked as to what he had just done.  It was hard to think of a van Nistelrooy goal greeted with such a reaction from players and fans alike. He went to score a hat trick that day. One of his 5 in total.

What is amazing is van Nistelrooy’s goal scoring record is even more amazing given the time he was at the club was culminated with some of Ferguson’s weakest squads. David Bellion, Kleberson and even Eric Djemba-Djemba were in the side but that didn’t stop his appetite for goal. He never had a barren spell. He kept going and going or should I say scoring and scoring.  One can only imagine how he would of done with the squads that followed.

The biggest disappointment for Ruud and fans alike is that in his 5 seasons with the club he only managed one league title an FA Cup and a Carling Cup medal when lesser talented United players have got more to their CV. Sadly United were going through a transitional phase at the time and after his departure went on to bag 3 successive Premier League crowns and a Champions League.

Whenever a ball was bobbling around the 6 yard box there was only one outcome. He was instinctive and clinical. United legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer even said the following :

‘’The best finisher I have seen at Old Trafford.’’

It is very hard to disagree but if it’s good enough for Ole it’s good enough for me.

One must think has there been a better striker at Manchester United since his departure?                 

Saha, Alan Smith, Dimitar Berbatov, Carlos Tevez, Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen or Javier Hernandez?

One thing is for certain though that  you could never question his goals tally. 150 in 219 games for Manchester United. 38 goals in 47 European games which is only bettered by German legend Gerd Muller.

No United fan will forgot the iconic ‘Ruuuuud’ chant from the crowd whenever he put the ball in the net.  He even greeted the United fans on Twitter with a ‘’United United United’’ tweet on Champions League final day back in May. Ruud’s certainly a fan favourite wherever he may be.

By Darren Hickey @DHick92