Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Tribute to Van The Man

Denis Law's title as the club's all-time top scorer in European competition in his fourth term, and, in his fifth year at OT, reached 150 goals in under 200 starts. This record guarantees Old Trafford legend status, arguably the club's second-best striker behind the Lawman and possibly the greatest natural goalscorer the Premiership has ever seen.
United initially had to be patient to get their man. In July 1998, he marked his 22nd birthday by signing for PSV Eindhoven from Heerenveen for £4.2million, a then record Dutch fee. In two years Ruud notched 60 goals for PSV, alerting United.
So keen was Sir Alex to sign van Nistelrooy that he stayed in contact with the player as he recovered from a cruciate knee ligament injury sustained in training for PSV. That setback came days after failing a United medical in April 2000. He finally arrived on 23 April 2001 for £19m.
Reds got their first glimpse of van Nistelrooy in the 2001 Charity Shield against Liverpool at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium. Liverpool won the game 2-1 but United fans exited the stadium highly content with what they had witnessed, specifically the way Ruud pounced on a ball from Ryan Giggs, rounded Kop keeper Sander Westerveld and slotted home with ease. It was a taste of things to come.
Van Nistelrooy's 36 goals in his debut season included 23 in the league, two in the FA Cup and an incredible 10 in Europe, as well as that Charity Shield strike. He was voted PFA Footballer of the Year, fitting recognition by his peers of the impact he had made on English football. He also struck up an immediate partnership with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – a close friend off the pitch – with the Norwegian contributing 25 goals to a stunning double-act. Those goals didn't secure United the Premiership title, the Reds finishing third behind Arsenal and Liverpool, but that was to change the following season.
Ruud's debut campaign total was incredibly eclipsed in 2002/03, scoring 25 league goals to inspire United to the title, with 13 goals in the final eight Premiership games of the season. This included two hat-tricks against Fulham and Charlton, a double against Liverpool and a crucial strike in the 2-2 away to United's nearest challengers Arsenal. Van Nistelrooy’s love affair with the Champions League continued, scoring an incredible 14 times in ten games as United progressed to the quarter-finals before losing out at that stage to Real Madrid.
Another 30 goals followed in his third term, including a series of landmark strikes: the goal against Stuttgart in December 2003 that equalled Denis Law’s club European record, his 100th United goal away to Everton in February 2004 and his two goals in the FA Cup final win over Millwall. Injuries hampered his 2004/05 campaign, but he still managed 16 goals in 27 appearances and was the Champions League's top scorer with eight goals, passing Law's European record in the match against Lyon in September 2004.
Unfortunately, 2005/06 was also tempered with disappointment. By December Ruud had bagged 17 goals in 26 starts, but the return to form and fitness of Louis Saha saw him edged out of the side. Van Nistelrooy was an unused substitute in the Carling Cup final and was left out of the match with Charlton on the final day of the season, with Sir Alex citing issues around "the spirit of the club" as the reason for his exclusion.
It emerged that van Nistelrooy had asked for a transfer request and after protracted negotiations hindered by the World Cup finals, Ruud finally signed for Real Madrid on 28 July 2006. His United career may be over but his contribution to the club will never be forgotten.