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Sir Alex Ferguson’s Greatest Manchester United Striker

Over his 27-year reign, Sir Alex Ferguson had some magnificent strikers who lit up Old Trafford. They varied as the decades went by and the game adapted, but each played a pivotal role in making Manchester United what it is today. Their skills range from the lethal poacher ready to score at any moment and the more technically gifted player willing to drop deep and create chances for his teammates. 

Firstly, so what makes a good United striker? For me it has to be bravery, confidence and consistency. This striker would be the team’s main source of goals, the player the team looks upon for a moment of magic or for them to take that one chance in the game and win it for them. Therefore, bravery, confidence and consistency are pivotal as if this striker isn’t brave, he won’t have the attitude to dive for every header and go in for every 50/50, but a player with bravery will score you those scrappy goals but these are the ones that make all the difference.

Confidence and consistency are simple terms but are necessary to make a great striker as without confidence the player won’t play at his best and could become a liability and without consistency the team can never fully rely on their striker which will massively hinder their team as the players around him need to know they can trust their striker. Hence why at the moment, Anthony Martial is sparking debate as to whether he’s good enough to play as United’s striker, as over his six years at the club he’s shown high potential and provided some good seasons especially the 2019/20 season where he scored 17 goals in the league and providing seven assists in 32 games, but he’s not managed to consistently equal these performances and his form has a tendency to slump often.

Ferguson had many strikers in his reign and this article will specifically look at five. These include, Andy Cole, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Dwight Yorke. Eric Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo would have made the top five, but I wouldn’t consider them as an out and out strikers under Ferguson.

Firstly, Andy Cole. He was an £8.64 million signing in January of 1995 which at the time was a British transfer fee record so expectations were high. He played 274 games for the Red Devils slotting in 121 goals and providing 44 assists as well. He formed a great partnership with another player on this list; Dwight Yorke. Yorke was a Trinidadian striker who joined United in July 1998 for a huge fee at the time of £17.33 million, thus like Cole expectations were also extremely high. He manged 65 goals and 29 assists in 152 games before leaving United in 2002. The pair won the historic treble and will undoubtedly go down as United legends but who was better? Both were brilliant players and had excellent chemistry but for me Andy Cole was the better player due to his lethal finishing but if it wasn’t for the link up with Yorke, he wouldn’t have been so successful. 

Ruud van Nistelrooy also came into United for a big fee in 2001 when he signed for £25.65 million from PSV Eindhoven. Van Nistelrooy epitomised the term poacher, as he was always in the right position at the right time with deadly finishing to score an abundance of goals. At his time at United he scored 150 goals with 20 assists in 219 games. In his best league season, he managed 25 goals in 34 games with three assists. In his five seasons in the Premier League, he managed to hit over 20 goals in 4 of them. He was a lethal finisher, with one of the highest goals per minute ratios in the Premier League of all time. However, one drawback to his ability was his overall game. As he was a poacher, he wasn’t that creative and his overall game wasn’t as strong as others on the list which means he can’t be ranked as United’s greatest striker under Ferguson.

The next striker is Wayne Rooney, he was a debatable one as arguably he can be seen as more of an allrounder and not a specific striker but he did play as a striker for Ferguson in certain seasons and parts of seasons so therefore I’d include him as a striker in Ferguson’s reign. Rooney signed for United in 2004 for £33.30 million and went onto play 559 games, scoring 223 goals and providing 146 assists. Then as a centre forward he managed 74 goals and 40 assists in 170 games. Statistically, he has an unbelievable record, scoring hundreds of goals and providing hundreds of assists even as a striker; and this defines Wayne Rooney as a player because he wasn’t one dimensional or limited in his game, he had everything, pace, power, finishing, passing, strength.

He could be the man to score the goals United needed but also provided that creative linkup bringing others into the game at the same time. As a striker he was quite unique, in this decade someone similar to Rooney would be Harry Kane who is blessed with brilliant vision and passing as well as great finishing. Furthermore, Rooney wasn’t one to shy away in the big games scoring one of the most iconic goals in Premier League history with a bicycle kick against local rivals Manchester City also managing many goals against the ‘Big Six’ scoring six goals against Liverpool, nine against Chelsea, ten against City and fifteen goals against Arsenal overall in his United and Everton Premier League career.

Rooney had what poachers like Van Nistelrooy didn’t and despite Yorke and Coles ability to partially do what Rooney could do, neither could do it to the level that Rooney could. Rooney’s overall game is what would place him above his fellow strikers at United as he wasn’t ever limited to just one dimension in a game, he could help his team in many ways which is pivotal to leading the team to success. Some of Rooney’s game came after Ferguson’s departure but a huge majority of his best performances and form came from under the management of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Finally, Robin Van Persie although not at the club for long is regarded by many as a United legend for his title winning contributions in the 2012/13 season in which he signed from big rivals Arsenal for £27.63 million. Van Persie was a proven striker who Wenger proclaimed to Ferguson after the signing that he’s a better player than you think.” He was brought in to be the final piece in the puzzle for Ferguson’s men in which unbeknownst to him would be Fergusons last season at the club. In his first and only season under Ferguson, Van Persie scored 30 goals with 26 of those coming in the Premier League and three in the Champions League and one in the FA Cup.

He didn’t manage to win the Champions League in this season which Ferguson would have aimed to achieve, but this is more due to a controversial decision made by the referee Cuneyt Cakir in the Champions League Round of 16 against Real Madrid to send Nani off after United looked the stronger team. However, Van Persie did manage to secure United their famous 20th title with such a strong performance from him throughout the season meaning many have claimed he single handily won United the title in this season. His 15 assists show his ability to link well with Rooney, seen especially against Aston Villa with that iconic volley after a beautiful pass from Rooney. Overall, Van Persie with more years under Ferguson could have been the best but having only played one full season restricted him.

In conclusion, I feel all five off these strikers are brilliant United greats but the best of them all was Wayne Rooney. He was a loyal servant to the club, but in particular was a world class footballer with a unique ability to pick any pass and play it, helping better the fluidity and link up within the United forwards. He scored crucial goals in pivotal times for United winning 16 trophies and was a role model to others as he never gave in and always performed for the badge. Therefore, I feel Rooney despite not being the most clinical or most conventional CF was United’s best striker in Ferguson’s reign due to his completeness as a player having everything to his game which the others couldn’t boast to their names. 

Written by Ethan Bents

Where Are They Now? Ruud van Nistelrooy – 150 goal striker was a great purchase for United

Manchester United signed Ruud van Nistelrooy for £19 million in the summer of 2001 but wanted to complete the deal in the summer of 2000 but the player suffered a rupture to his anterior cruciate knee ligaments during a training session, which kept him out of action for the following year. At the time he was signed by United, it was a relatively risky deal considering the injury he had suffered a year before but United were ready to take the gamble. At the time he signed for United, Van Nistelrooy said:

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

The Dutchman spend five seasons at United, playing 219 times and scoring 150 goals – a feat in modern day football. In terms of goals scored for United, Van Nistelrooy sits in eleventh place with the likes of Paul Scholes, Mark Hughes, Ryan Giggs, Joe Spence, George Best, Dennis Viollet, Jack Rowley, Denis Law, Sir Bobby Charlton and Wayne Rooney ahead of him. The Dutchman was a great striker of the ball and a great player of his time.

Van Nistelrooy also assisted 21 times for United, showing that he was not always that selfish striker and would lay on goals for his teammates. This is something that was good to see at the time as most players would prefer to score themselves. He scored six hat-tricks for United in his time at the club, scoring three goals in a match five times, scoring four goals once. United had not seen a hat-trick since Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored one against Saint-Étienne in the UEFA Europa League in February 2017 until Marcus Rashford scored his first senior career hat-trick against RB Leipzig on Wednesday.

Before signing for United, Van Nistelrooy has youth careers with Nooit Gedacht (1981-90), RKSV Margriet (1990-91) and Den Bosch (1991-93), making the senior team for the latter from 1993-97. He then signed for Heerenveen, leaving in 1998 for PSV Eindhoven, the club he left for head to United. Van Nistelrooy was passionate and according to former teammate, Paul Scholes, he used to sulk if rival, Thierry Henry had scored. Scholes said:

“I played No.10 with Ruud van Nistelrooy for a season and I loved it.

“He’s just a ruthless, ruthless goalscorer. He just lived for scoring goals.

“Whenever he did score or didn’t score, the first thing he would do when we got on the team bus after the game was see if Thierry Henry scored.

“If Thierry Henry had scored he wouldn’t talk to anybody for the full trip home because he was so engrossed in being the leading goalscorer, not just at United but in the league, in the world, everywhere.”

Van Nistelrooy won the Premier League Golden Boot for the 2002/03 season, with Henry winning the season before and the three seasons after, with the Dutchman scoring 25 goals in the league alone that season. Van Nistelrooy is amongst five players who have won the Golden Boot for United in the league; Dwight Yorke (1998/99), Cristiano Ronaldo (2007/08), Dimitar Berbatov (2010/11), and Robin van Persie (2012/13). The rivalry with Henry was intense.

Van Nistelrooy scored 95 goals in 150 Premier League appearances, which is a great feat considering the five seasons he was part of at United. Scholes also spoke about his former teammate’s finishing, which was rather spectacular. Scholes has played with Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie but classes the Dutchman was the best finisher of the lot, saying:

“I loved the way he finished. Look, I played with some unbelievable centre-forwards. You are thinking [Andy] Cole, Yorke, [Teddy] Sheringham, [Ole Gunnar] Solskjaer. There are loads. Van Persie I played with as well.

“There are some unbelievable goalscorers. But to me, Ruud was the best, he was the best finisher.”

Former United teammate Darren Fletcher also spoke to the media about Van Nistelrooy, confirming that ‘if he hadn’t scored he’s be absolutely raging,’ which shows how passionate the Dutchman was about finding the back of the net. Perhaps he went too far by raging if he didn’t score, but you will understand the challenges they he set himself, aiming to score every time he played, which is a great work ethic. Fletcher said:

“Ruud [Van Nistelrooy] was brilliant and a great guy in the dressing as well.

“I sat beside him and he really looked after me when I first got into the team. I didn’t drive for a while and he used to pick me up and be my chauffeur!

“But he was [obsessed with scoring].

“We’d win a game 4-0 but if he hadn’t scored he would come into the dressing room and throw his boots against the wall, he’d be slapping his boots down, he’d be absolutely raging!

“Everyone else was like, ‘we’ve just won 4-0’, but for him he was that ruthless as a goal scorer he just wanted to score in every game.

“It didn’t matter if we won 5-0, 4-0, 3-0 – if he hadn’t scored he’s be absolutely raging.

“That was his weekend destroyed!”

In the summer of 2006, Van Nistelrooy left United, with then manager, Sir Alex Ferguson confirming that the player wanted to leave, seemingly after a furious bust-up between the pair in the final Premier League game of the 2005/06 season, which was unfortunate. Real Madrid and Bayern Munich seemed interested in the player with a €14 million bid accepted and the player heading to Madrid. It was a shame to see this prolific goalscorer leave the club.

Van Nistelrooy spent three and a half seasons in Madrid, playing 96 times, scoring 64 goals and assisting a further 16. After Madrid, he left for the Bundesliga, signing for Hamburger SV in January 2010 for 18 months and played 44 times, scoring 17 goals and a further three assists. After his time in Germany, La Liga called again with his signing for Malaga, spending one season at the club, where he played 32 times, scoring five goals and one assist. That was the end of the road for the Dutchman, playing anyway.

Van Nistelrooy has a glittering career as a player, winning two Eredivisie titles and one Johan Cruyff Shield at PSV, one Premier League title, one FA Cup, one League Cup and one FA Community Shield at United, winning two La Liga titles and one Supercopa de Espańa at Real Madrid – a total of ten different trophies for three different clubs. At international level, Van Nistelrooy played for the Netherlands, making his debut in 1998 and hanging up his boots for his country in 2011, playing 70 times and scoring 35 goals – his first against Morocco in a friendly in 1999, his last against Hungary in 2011 as part of the qualification for UEFA Euro 2012.

On the 22 June 2013, Van Nistelrooy joined former club PSV Eindhoven as a coaching intern working with the U17 level within the club’s academy. Just three years later, it was revealed that the Dutchman would become the striker coach for the U17, U19 and the reserve team. Whilst back at PSV, Van Nistelrooy helped then Netherland’s coach, Guus Hiddink after the 2014 FIFA World Cup, after Louis van Gaal left the team for United, this was additional to he work with PSV.

Van Nistelrooy is the coach for the U19s at PSV after succeeding Mark van Bommel, who was promoted to first team head coach after Phillip Cocu left for Fenerbahçe, at the time. He is also the assistant coach of the Netherlands and was part of Ronald Koeman’s coaching staff before he left for Barcelona. The Dutchman is obviously setting up the foundations for a career in management, starting at youth level, aiming to work his way up. Currently 44, he has plenty of time to set his sights on the goal he wants. Perhaps he’s happy having a role in the development of the teenagers he’s working with. At the time he was made the head of PSV’s U19s, Van Nistelrooy said:

“This is a great opportunity to take the next step in my development. I have thought about it and talked about it extensively with a number of people.

“This is a great time to take on this job. I am really looking forward to working with this talented group in this position.”

Written by John Walker

copyright: JW