Ruud van Nistelrooy
Full name: Rutgerus Johannes Martinus van Nistelrooij
Date of birth: 01/07/1976
He came to the Premier League with a reputation: that of being one of the most potent marksmen in European football. During his time at Manchester United, he not only upheld that reputation, but built on it, in the process becoming one of the most feared forwards of his generation.
While his talent brought him unprecedented success and accolades with United, life in Manchester was not always a happy one for van Nistelrooy. He joined the unfortunate group of stars to get on the wrong side of Sir Alex Ferguson, eventually being forced away from the club and moving on to Real Madrid.
Rutgerus Johannes Martinius van Nistelrooij, as he is fully known, was born in 1976, in Oss, Southern Holland. His interest in sport began when he was a schoolboy. Football wasn’t the only sport where he demonstrated flair, though, with tennis and gymnastics also among his talents. In his village football team he played as a sweeper, before his footballing career properly took off. He also played part-time for Nooit Gedacht and Magriet.
Early Professional Years
In 1993, his services were snapped up by FC Den Bosch, then in the Dutch Second Division. Playing professional football for the first time, he moved up to central midfield, allowing him to advertise his attacking ability behind the front two. Having spent three fairly ordinary seasons in the lower reaches of the Dutch football league, his 1996-97 season with Den Bosch was a telling one. He bagged an impressive 12 goals in 13 games, not surprisingly catching the eye of bigger clubs.
van Nistelrooy was eventually signed by SC Heerenveen in 1997. For the first time in his career, he was moved to centre forward. The decision paid immediate dividends. He managed 13 goals in 31 games in his first season in the Eredivisie, Dutch football’s top flight. His services were becoming more and more sought-after.
Record Signing – Record Breaker
After just one season with Heerenveen, he signed for Dutch giants, PSV Eindhoven for £4.2 million, a record transfer fee at the time between two Dutch clubs. It was a move that no doubt raised a few eyebrows.
He scored his first PSV goal against former employers SC Heerenveen, before going on to net a remarkable 31 goals in 34 games. That was the highest tally for that season in the Eredivisie and the second highest in Europe, an achievement that led to him being awarded the Dutch Player of the Year accolade by his fellow professionals. He also grabbed his first Champions League hat-trick against Finnish outfit, HJK Helsinki.
In November ’98, van Nistelrooy burst onto the international scene, gaining his first cap in a 1-1 draw against Germany, with his first goal for his country coming in a surprise 2-1 reversal against Morocco.
In March 2000, van Nistelrooy injured his knee in a friendly against Danish side Silkeborg, postponing a proposed £18.5 million move to Manchester United. Days after this disappointment, things got worse, as van Nistelrooy broke down in training with PSV after damaging his cruciate knee ligament.
This didn’t stop him from maintaining his incredible goalscoring form, as he picked up his second consecutive Dutch Player of the Year award. He scored a total of 29 goals in the 1999-2000 season, and was the Eredivisie’s top scorer and Europe’s second top scorer for the second season running.
Following a year of rehabilitation, he scored twice in his comeback game in March ’01, securing PSV’s place in the Dutch Cup final.
Record Signing, Record Breaker – Again
Almost exactly a year after his first move to United had collapsed, van Nistelrooy finally put pen to paper for the English champions. With the United careers of Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke coming to an end, it was clear from the start that it was money well spent by Sir Alex Ferguson. In the 2001-02 season, he broke the record for scoring in consecutive Premier League games, scoring in eight straight league games.
He endeared himself immediately to the Old Trafford faithful, scoring in his full debut for United, in the 2001 Charity Shield match with Liverpool. He then bagged twice in his league debut, a 3-2 win against Fulham at Old Trafford, before netting his first United hat-trick in a 6-1 trouncing over Southampton at Old Trafford. He quickly took over the penalty-taking duties, converting seven in his first season. He was not only proving his deadliness with tap-ins, but also with one-on-ones, headers and even longer-range strikes.
In the Champions League, he was showing his £19 million worth. With doubles at home to Deportivo and Boavista, and crucial strikes away to Bayern Munich and Deportivo, he finished top scorer in the 2001-02 Champions League. Arguably his biggest highlight of the 2001-02 season came in a dramatic FA Cup 3rd Round tie at Aston Villa. With United finding themselves 2-0 down and in need of a miracle, van Nistelrooy came off the bench to score twice in as many minutes to seal an unforgettable 3-2 victory. After a remarkable 23 league goals in 32 games, 10 Champions League goals, and eight straight scoring league games, he rightly became PFA Players’ Player of the Year.
Following his superb debut season with United, one could sense his increased determination, and how loathe he was to finish the 2002-03 season trophyless. He was even more ruthless in front of goal, helping United grab their 8th Premier League crown in 11 seasons under Ferguson. Netting a grand total of 44 in all competitions, including three hat-tricks and 12 penalties, it was clear he was injecting fear in Premier League and European defenders alike.
He scored vital goals at vital times, with the opener at Highbury at the business end of the season, his brace (both penalties) at home to Liverpool and his hat-trick at home to Newcastle among the most important. His 25 goals in the Premier League were pivotal to United regaining the league title, and his equaliser at Everton on the last day of the season saw him pip Thierry Henry to the Golden Boot award. Although the PFA award went to Henry, he still earned the Barclaycard Player of the Year. Furthermore, he added to the previous season’s tally of 10 Champions League goals, this time scoring 12, again ending the season as the competition’s top scorer (despite United only making the Quarter-Final stage).
In the 2003-04 season, van Nistelrooy got his hands on the FA Cup, scoring twice in the final in the 3-0 win over Millwall at the Millennium Stadium. He also scored twice in the Fifth Round victory over great rivals Manchester City.
Out Of Form
Despite United’s success in the FA Cup, van Nistelrooy’s league form began to suffer; many argue that David Beckham’s departure to Real Madrid for the 2003-04 season cut down the service he so thrived on in the previous two seasons. The season began encouragingly enough, and the signs were pointing to yet another prolific campaign. In February ’04, his brace at Everton in a 4-3 win (his 100th and 101st United goals), plus his eight straight scoring games at the end of the 2002-03 season, equalled the all-time top flight record of consecutive scoring games. His instincts clearly remained.
However, his scoring form went somewhat astray during the second half of the season. He went a worrying 8 games without a league goal, and his once flawless form from the penalty spot also went AWOL. He missed four penalties that season, including the infamous injury-time penalty against Arsenal that crashed onto the bar, unforgettable for the taunting by Martin Keown, Ray Parlour, Bisan Lauren and Ashley Cole. More worrying, though, was a knee injury that sidelined him until May’s FA Cup Final.
Brief Return To Form
In that season, though, he still managed to break Denis Law’s European goalscoring record for United. He retained his place at the top of the Champions League scoring charts with 8 goals, and his two Cup Final goals capped off the season in a positive manner. His scoring exploits for Holland were also positive, as he netted four goals as Holland reached the Semi-Final of Euro 2004. The season after, van Nistelrooy was out of action until mid-September after an operation to his groin. As it had been in seasons gone by, his return from injury was a happy one, as he scored four at home to Sparta Prague in a devastating display.
Beginning Of The End at United
That display against Sparta was, sadly, the highlight of a disappointing season. Having picked up a supposed calf problem playing for Holland in October ’04, he hobbled on for another six weeks, before being forced to stop because of the seriousness of the injury. It was later announced that an Achilles injury was the real reason. He was sidelined for three months.
He returned in early March, in a Champions League tie against his favourite boyhood team AC Milan. He was not match-fit, and the cost of his absence was there for all to see: the lowest goalscoring tally of any United team since 1991.
In 2005-06, he was again the top United scorer with 24 goals. Up until February ’06, he had scored 19 goals, among them his first United goal from outside the box at Charlton. However, injury was not the problem this time. Suspicions about van Nistelrooy’s United future arose when he failed even to come off the bench in the 2006 Carling Cup Final against Wigan Athletic. With injury ruled out as the problem, this could only mean one thing: a rift with Fergie.
The nail in the coffin came on the final game of the 2006 season, as he was omitted from the team to play Charlton, following a reported training ground bust-up with Cristiano Ronaldo. Ferguson claimed van Nistelrooy, angry at being left out, went home three hours prior to kick-off without watching the game. As expected, he left Manchester United, heading to Real Madrid on July 28, 2006, for a reported fee of £12.3 million. In September ’06, van Nistelrooy criticised his former club, saying he was "stabbed in the back" after years of loyalty to United. Since then, though, Ferguson has said there are no grudges held between himself and van Nistelrooy.
Real Success For Ruud
van Nistelrooy was an instant hit at the Bernabeu, with goals galore almost instantly for his new club. When he scored a hat-trick in only his second match for Real Madrid, against newly-promoted Levante UD, it looked ominous for La Liga defenders.
van Nistelrooy has become an instant hero at the Bernabeu, scoring massive goals in both El Clasico games against arch rivals Barcelona. In the Bernabeu fixture in October, he scored in the second half to help clinch a key victory over their enemies, and in March at the Nou Camp, he netted a brace in an enthralling 3-3 draw, ultimately swinging the title race in Real’s favour. In the title run-in, he scored in a key 2-1 win over Valencia, before bagging two out of the team’s three goals against title hopefuls Sevilla.
In the next match, Real Madrid were trailing Espanyol 2-0. Up stepped van Nistelrooy to give Real a glimmer of hope, scoring Real’s first. They won 4-3, the winner coming in the 89th minute. In their penultimate game, he twice brought Real level at Real Zaragoza, with the second equaliser coming in the dying embers of the match. Real went into the final match top of the table, and went on to win the 2006-07 La Liga after a 3-1 home triumph over Real Mallorca.
He ended his first La Liga season just as he had finished his first Premier League season, as top scorer with 25 goals. He earned the coveted Pichichi award (given out by Spanish newspaper La Marca to the top La Liga goalscorer), before equalling the longest consecutive scoring streak (7 matches) in La Liga history, a feat he had also managed with United. Unsurprisingly, he was selected as a nominee for the 2007 FIFA World Player of the Year.
Not Just A Name
Despite a sour end to a fantastic spell at Old Trafford, there is no doubting his impact on the club. Scoring an incredible 150 goals in 200 United starts (and 19 sub appearances), he propelled them to their 8th Premier League title and their record 11th FA Cup. In five seasons, his 38 Champions League strikes made him the club’s all-time leading scorer in the competition. There was no uncertainty, either, about the assets he would bring to Real Madrid. It was no shock to anyone to see the huge contribution his 25 La Liga goals made to Real’s capture of their 30th La Liga crown.
- La Liga Top Scorer: 2007
- FIFA 100: 2004
- English Premiership Top Scorer: 2003
- UEFA Club Forward of the Year: 2003
- Champions League Top Scorer: 2002, 2003
- PFA Player of the Year: 2002
- Barclaycard Player of the Year: 2002
- Champions League Most Valuable Striker: 2002
- Dutch Player of the Year: 1999, 2000
- Eredivisie Top Scorer: 1999, 2000
|1993-1997||Den Bosch||69 (17)|
|1997-1998||SC Heerenveen||31 (13)|
|1998-2001||PSV Eindhoven||67 (62)|
|2001-2006||Manchester United||150 (95)|
|2006-present||Real Madrid||64 (43)|