The catalyst to Manchester United’s latter stint of success was the 2006 League Cup final. Like Jose Mourinho stuck with Sergio Romero for the Europa League final, given how option he had played in the competition up until that point, Sir Alex Ferguson chose Louis Saha over Ruud van Nistelrooy. Saha was the top scorer in the competition and scored in the final.
Van Nistelrooy was the second highest scorer in the Premier League that season and had hoped to come on in the second half. Instead, Ferguson brought on 21-year-old Kieran Richardson, as well as new signings Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic to give them their first taste of success at the club.
Tony Coton, who was United’s goalkeeping coach at the time, spoke about what happened on that afternoon.
He was distraught at being on the bench for United’s victory in the 2006 League Cup final. When Ronaldo’s No 7 went up and Kieran Richardson was sent on, Van Nistelrooy’s temper started to stir again. Ten minutes later new boys Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic came on for Mikael Silvestre and Wes Brown. Without even turning to look Ferguson in the eye, Ruud spewed out a torrent of four-letter curses.
I was sat one place away from the manager and could see the red mist descending over him. A TV cameraman close to the bench had also picked up on Ruud’s vitriolic rant. ‘He’s finished here,’ whispered the manager to me. ‘No one speaks to me like that.’
In the dressing room Sir Alex sought out the striker while all around champagne corks were popping. It was an incongruous moment to tell one of the club’s star players he was doomed at United.