It has been announced over the weekend that former United and Netherlands striker Ruud van Nistelrooy has retired from football aged 35. Ruud was undoubtedly one of United’s most prolific goalscorers of all-time, notching an impressive 150 goals in 219 appearances.
The transfer of van Nistelrooy to United was certainly a protracted affair. Originally, Ruud was ready to join the club for £18.5million in the summer of 2000. With the deal seemingly done, a press conference was arranged to announce the transfer. However, it was instead used to confirm the transfer would be delayed, after concerns over the striker’s fitness. Interestingly enough, van Nistelrooy suffered ruptured knee ligaments during a training session just days later. Despite the initial setbacks, Sir Alex finally got his man when the deal was completed in April 2001. At the time, the deal was United’s record transfer fee paid to another club, only to be beaten a few weeks later when Seba Veron joined the club from Lazio.
van Nistelrooy played down the huge transfer fee, suggesting that “The price is not heavy for me – it lifts me up because it means United have big confidence in me.” He made his full debut for the club in the 2001 Community Shield, scoring a consolation goal as United were defeated 2-1 by Liverpool. The goalscoring continued on van Nistelrooy’s league debut, as he notched a brace against Fulham in a 3-2 victory. Despite United having a relatively unsuccessful season, finishing 3rd in the Premiership and trophyless, van Nistelrooy scored 23 league goals and was voted the PFA Player of the Season for 2002. During 2001/02, he broke the record for scoring in consecutive games, scoring in 8 consecutive matches. He also managed 10 goals in the Uefa Champions League. Not bad for a debut season.
The goals continued in 2002/03. van Nistelrooy finished as the Premiership top scorer with 25 goals, including hat-tricks against Newcastle, Charlton and most notably Fulham, a game remember for van Nistelrooy’s fantastic solo goal to make it 3-0. Ruud’s goals inspired United to reclaim the title from Arsenal in one of the most hotly contested title races in Premier League history. 2003/04 saw more personal accolades for van Nistelrooy as he scored his 100th goal for United during a 4-3 win against Everton at Goodison Park. His goals led to more success, scoring two as United defeated Milwall in the 2004 FA Cup Final. Although he was out for most of the 04/05 season with injury, the season was not without it’s highlights. van Nistelrooy scored from the penalty spot against Arsenal to end their 49 game unbeaten run, exorcising the demons from his miss the previous season. He also finished as top-scorer in the Champions League with 8 goals despite United falling in the last 16.
Ruud began 05/06 in great form, scoring in the first 4 matches. van Nistelrooy faced competition from a resurgent Louis Saha, who was beginning to find form in a United shirt. Both men scored in the League Cup Semi-Final victory over Blackburn to book United’s place in the Final at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium. This left Sir Alex with a tough selection dilemma ahead of the Final against Wigan. Sir Alex opted for Saha, who had played throughout the tournament. His choice was justified as Saha was amongst the goals as United won 4-0. This was the beginning of the end for van Nistelrooy’s time at Old Trafford. He was benched for 6 consecutive league games before returning to the first team with goals against West Ham and Bolton. van Nistelrooy sensationally left the ground, hours before kick-off, having been excluded from the starting line-up ahead of the final day of the season game against Charlton. Media reports suggested this was due to a training ground bust-up with Cristiano Ronaldo. This caused widespread speculation over the striker’s future and put further strain on his cagey relationship with the manager.
Their differences were clearly irreconcilable and on 15th July 2006, Sir Alex Ferguson announced van Nistelrooy’s intentions to leave the club. Two weeks later, van Nistelrooy signed for Real Madrid for €24 million. He left Old Trafford with 150 goals to his name and as the club’s record scorer in Europe with 38 goals. Ferguson and van Nistelrooy have since patched up their differences with the striker apologising for his behaviour prior to leaving Old Trafford.V
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