It’s been nearly twenty years since I lost something very dear to me. In the general riff-raff of everyday life in a Greater Manchester primary school, I made sure that I repped the colours of Manchester United, whether it was through a pair of socks blazoned with the club crest, or a classic black harrington-style waterproof coat with the letters MUFC on the chest. One addition to the #Drip was an official Manchester United x Ruud van Nistelrooy cap, with ‘Ruud 10’ on the front. It took pride of place for about 2 weeks, before a playground rival took umbrage at its sight and threw it as far over a fence as he could. Since then, hats have quite never felt the same.
Despite this tragedy, the love for Ruud never disappeared. Growing up watching a post-treble Man Utd side lift trophies every year was a pleasure that most people don’t experience in a lifetime. At the heart of that team was the likes of Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and so many more, but none of them hit quite like Ruud van Nistelrooy.
There’s something special about the first time you start to love football. I remember attending my first ever game at Old Trafford, a pre-season tournament involving United, Boca Juniors, Urawa Red Diamonds and PSV Eindhoven. Ruud van Nistelrooy got the captain’s armband for the first time in that game, which preceded one of the rarest events in British football history. The game against Japan’s J-League Cup winners was cancelled at the final moment, leaving myself, the Urawa Ultras and every other fan pretty gutted. My dad justified it to me by telling me that “You wouldn’t want Ruud to get struck by lightning would you?” I glumly accepted the decision. After all, United needed a win against Dinamo Bucuresti the week after to confirm their place in the Champions League!
Later in the summer, Wayne Rooney officially joined up at United, and the Ruud van Nistelrooy we knew and loved had a tenacious partner up front with him, alongside Cristiano Ronaldo on the wing. It was an incredible season, despite the lack of trophies. I wouldn’t have been able to predict what would come in the following years in terms of on-pitch success, but somehow there was a melancholy feeling as van Nistelrooy approached the end of his time in England.
After the FA Cup final losses and training ground fights, van Nistelrooy left United to join Real Madrid, a tale as old as time. He departed to Spain having left the memories of being one of the league’s finest strikers, battling with the great Thierry Henry for Golden Boots and destroying defences with expert finishing, dribbling and positioning.
The fun thing about Ruud van Nistelrooy is that the character is beloved by most. Despite Martin Keown’s best efforts, you’d be hard pressed to find a football fan that holds disdain against the Dutchman. His exploits at Real Madrid, Hamburg, Malaga and in his homeland while battling through injuries adds to his endearing character.
Since retiring, he’s worked as a coach for the Netherlands during the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2020 campaigns, as well as being a striker coach at PSV’s youth teams, before becoming the manager of Jong PSV, PSV’s development side in the second division. He takes the reins at PSV Eindhoven in a matter of months, with many former followers of the big number ten wishing him well and hoping that a future in management will provide him a great career.
Maybe we’ll see him in England one day and if we do - hopefully the weather will be better than the 2004 Vodafone Cup.