After patiently waiting for Ruud van Nistelrooy to recover from an injury before signing him, he was a goalscoring machine for Manchester United. Took him until his last season at the club to score from outside the box, a fact rival fans enjoyed, but after scoring 150 goals in 219 games, there weren’t many United fans complaining!
However, the relationship between player and manager soured following Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to drop him for the Carling Cup final. Louis Saha, who was the competition’s top scorer that season was chosen ahead of Ruud, but the Dutchman didn’t even get a look in when the substitutions were made. Ferguson opted to give his young player Richardson, as well as new signings Evra and Vidic, a taste of success instead.
Ruud did not join in with the celebrations on the pitch, lifting our only trophy of the season after winning nothing the season before, leaving Cardiff in a hurry.
Ruud wasn’t quite the same after that, even though he did start more games than the in-form Saha. Clearly things had been said behind the scenes and it had an effect on the way Ruud played. He just didn’t seem to care as much anymore and this was epitomised with the penalty kick he took against Boro on the second to last day of the season. The title race was already over, of course, but following his last performance at home, in the 0-0 against Sunderland who went down that day, more was expected of him, but we had to settle for another 0-0.
It was no surprise when he handed in a transfer request and left for Real Madrid at the end of the season and repeatedly talked about the club and manager. It was a sad end to the story of a great player at our club. Regardless, we went on to win the league the following season, despite not buying a replacement, which will have rubbed salt in to the wounds even more.
Essentially, Ruud didn’t think he had to work for his place in the first team, that it instead should just be handed to him despite the hard work of Saha and others. That attitude is entirely unprofessional, but more importantly, it’s not going to cut it at Manchester United.
With another League Cup final to be played today, marking the third anniversary of when Ruud was dropped, our former striker has spoken about making up with the manager.
“I’m so looking forward to see him again,” said Ruud. “I want to talk and make up, clear the air between us. After all this time I can’t believe or understand what it was really all about. Why did it have to be such a big thing? I think we were both to blame. It just exploded between us. Because we had such a smashing relationship, I just thought, ‘What on earth are you doing to me?’ I was so upset. As a professional player you never get so attached to your club or manager that a clash will hurt you that much. But in this case it did. It got very personal.”