“The End Was Ruthless.”
A decade after Ruud van Nistelrooy left Manchester United as a player on July 28, 2006, the Dutchman was extremely candid about the manner of his departure from the most successful team in English football.
The Dutchman is one of the greatest strikers of the Premier League, and has a legitimate case to be one of Man Utd’s all-time best forwards. His numbers speak for themselves. Van Nistelrooy made 150 Premier League appearances for the Red Devils and contributed a mammoth 95 goals for the cause; the third best return in the club’s history.
After Sir Alex Ferguson finally bagged his man following a season-long delay in 2001 for a then club and British record £19m transfer from PSV Eindhoven, van Nistelrooy wasted no time making his mark in the English top tier. He set a new record for scoring in the most consecutive games (8), a standard that stood for a decade before being broken by Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy.
Alongside his consistent jostling with Arsenal’s Thierry Henry for the Golden Boot (which he won in his Premier League-winning season in 2003), his silverware amounted to every top domestic trophy available, and he became a three-time Champions League top goalscorer. He still remains the club’s all time top striker in the elite European competition, with 35 goals - five more than Wayne Rooney who would later call him “the best finisher I've played with” (MEN).
There are few other players - aside from the current manager in his heyday - who any team would honestly have liked to rely on in the box as van Nistelrooy. Deadly is an understatement.
Van Nistelrooy’s ending at The Theatre of Dreams was however, acrimonious.
After four-and-a-half seasons, he had felt particularly irked after being left out of a League Cup Final against Wigan in February 2006; “That’s when I started to feel unhappy” Van Nistelrooy stated at the press conference for his Real Madrid unveiling, five months after that benching.
That catalytic moment was on top of the rumours of being slighted by Fergie’s apparent preference for one Cristiano Ronaldo, then on the ascendency to becoming the greatest footballer on the planet. RVN was no longer the main man. The deal to the Spanish capital - which remains in the top ten highest transfer fees Manchester United have received for one player - was completed on the same day as Michael Carrick transferred from Tottenham Hotspur, a peerless player whose association with the club continues as of the beginning of the 2019/20 season.
Ronaldo would haunt van Nistelrooy three years later when Real Madrid made the Portuguese the then-most expensive player in history.
As they say, however, time heals.
Van Nistelrooy’s maturity and respect for both Sir Alex Ferguson and Cristiano Ronaldo is a real measure of the man. As is his continuing affiliation as a Manchester United legend, for the fans and his club.
The relationship between club and man has been mended. Van Nistelrooy is a semi-regular attendee to the Theatre of Dreams and has appeared in several charitable fixtures. Upon returning to OT in 2017 for a Legends game versus Barcelona he said: “It always a pleasure, it’s a great feeling especially to see the lads and the fans and come back here.” (ManUtdFoundation)
On Ronaldo, despite his former teammate’s relatively counterproductive effect it had on determining his own career path, van Nistelrooy has since conceded: “He came as a young lad but he knew what he wanted to become, and he also said it: 'I want to be the best player in the world.’“
“At the beginning you think: ‘OK, he's a young lad - keep dreaming.’ But the work-rate and talent he's combining has made him achieve his goals, and he's still going strong. It's fantastic.” (UEFA)
His relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson has also recovered. “ It was me who took the first step to make it okay again,” he explained. “I called him. A few times a year I felt bad about what I had done to him and the names I called him when he kept me on the bench for the entire match in the League Cup final in Cardiff. In a blind rage I shouted at him.
“Cocky and stubborn as I was, I couldn't snap out of that for some time after. That's how it all crashed. It was just really disrespectful. It wasn't all that outrageous in terms of words but it was completely out of order. Not done. I wasn't proud of it, still am not." (MEN)
For those Manchester United fans who witnessed his unmerciful, cold-blooded ability on an almost weekly basis in his pomp, van Nistelrooy certainly has a lot more to be proud about.