Not quite in tune with the finer aspects of the game, there is a reason that many flock to strikers as their first footballing heroes.
It is the striker that will take all the glory as it is he that gave his team the lead or won the game. People will remember the center back’s last ditch tackle, or the goalkeeper’s save that kept the score at 1-0 in the 89th minute of the cup final but when the final whistle blows and the headlines are written, it will be the striker who made it 1-0 that takes the plaudits.
Due to my character I always had a thing for combative players. Whilst I appreciate a good goalscorer, they didn’t quite make my eyes light up the way some like Roy Keane did as he marauded about the pitch, geeing up his team with take no prisoners, don’t give them an inch attitude.
But this all changed when Ruud Van Nistelrooy joined Manchester United.
In Van Nistelrooy I found a striker I truly loved to watch and despite the fact he was plying his trade in the Premiership at the same time as the magical Thierry Henry, I would not have traded ours for him or anyone in the world.
People loved to point out Van Nistelrooy’s short comings; he isn’t fast, crap outside the box blah blah blah, my simple response was “Give him the ball in the box and 9/10 times I’ll be smiling” or “If he is so poor how comes few defences have any joy against him?” And both hold true, Ruud was a simply a goal machine and even though you knew what to expect from him there was little you could do at the time.
I won’t profess to have known who exactly he was when we signed him, I remembered the move had broken down amidst fitness concerns but the fact we stuck it out and waited a year let me know that we were looking at some player and he didn’t disappoint.
The next 5 years were a goal laden dream as he put countless teams to the sword. 36 goals one season, 44 the next Ruud really did score when he wanted (unlike this dutch fraud parading around the Premiership today!) He became a hero to all and when he was needed to dig us out of a hole every so often, he duly obliged. Look no further than the game where he would break Denis Law’s long standing European goals record. 2-0 down against Lyon, Van Nistelrooy scored his 29th and 30th European goals for United and rescue a point.
With so many highlights to look on from his time here, is a travesty that all he has to show for his goals are a Premier League title and a FA Cup.
But I feel there was more to Ruud than his goals and what he won, he built a genuine rapport with the fans (how many of us properly felt it when he exorcised the demons scoring that penalty against Arsenal?) thus his reputation wasn’t tarnished when he left the club in the manner he did. Despite that episode he always had a good word to say about United and last year he made his peace with Sir Alex too, finally closing that chapter.
Ruud was a brilliant goalscorer and occasionally a scorer of brilliant goals, the highest compliment that can be paid to him is that he was often referred to as the club’s greatest goal scorer since Denis Law. Part of Javier Hernandez’s charm is that at moments he shows glimpses of Van Nistelrooy and if he goes anywhere the brilliant goal scoring fetes of the Dutchman then he too will be as loved.
Having plied his trade in Spain and German after United, Van Nistelrooy continued to score goals but as is to be expected found them harder to come by as he got on in age. So yesterday as Malaga defeated Sporting Gijon and secured Champions League football, Ruud announced he had played his last game.
It is probably a cruel bit of irony that on the day Manchester United lost the title on goal difference, one of the greatest goal scorers the club has ever seen bowed out of the game, but having had the chance to see him at his pomp and in his prime we can count ourselves grateful.