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 in the 2020/21 season.
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 has also been the assistant coach for the Netherlands national team, now concentrating on club football again.
The Dutchman has been setting up the foundations for a career in management, starting at youth level, aiming to work his way up. Currently 46, he has worked up the ranks from youth to first team and will be the head coach of PSV this summer
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