The Greatest XI: Van The Man

Football began over 150 years ago. For myself, personally, it began in 1990. At the age of ten, I fell in love with the sport and of course Manchester United. Watching the FA Cup Final with my father and his mates, followed by Italia ’90, it really did capture my imagination. This got me thinking, what or rather who would be my dream Manchester United eleven? Over the coming weeks, I shall be selecting my one to eleven.

11. Ruud Van Nistelrooy – Striker

The final piece of the jigsaw and my eleventh man. Every manager searches for the player that will fire their team to glory, the 20 goal striker than can change a game. Well back in 2001, Sir Alex Ferguson found just that. His name, Ruud Van Nistelrooy.

Van Nistelrooy was signed from his native Holland, Playing for PSV Eindhoven in the Dutch Eredivisie. With Andy Cole starting to age and Sir Alex reportedly fed up with Dwight Yorke’s partying lifestyle, the boss splashed out for the Dutchman, looking to spearhead another title winning team. United had been following Van Nistelrooy and wanted to bring him to England in 2000 but doubts about the player’s knee began to surface. Then during a training session, Ruud ruptured his cruciate ligament, leaving the player sidelined for a year. Ferguson finally got his man for around £19 million.

“The price is not heavy for me – it lifts me up because it means United have big confidence in me.” – Van Nistelrooy on his transfer 

Van Nistelrooy was not the quickest, a tall but athletic striker, but boy was he lethal in front of goal. His build up play at times was not spectacular, enough to keep the team playing, but once inside that penalty area he came alive. Scoring on his debut against Liverpool in the Charity Shield and then scoring a brace on his league debut against Fulham, Ruud would take the Premier League by storm, scoring 24 in 33 league appearances, plus ten goals during the Champions League campaign.

Ruud would go on to break the Premier League record by scoring in eight consecutive games. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to stop Arsenal taking the title to Highbury.

The following season 2002/03, Van Nistelrooy notched a further 25 goals, including three hat tricks. The Premier League title was wrestled back from the Gunners and headed back to Old Trafford. Ruud, scoring for eight consecutive matches as the title run in hotted up.

During 2003/04, Ruud was again back in the goals. It seemed that pretty much every game the Dutchman would find the net. The double he scored on the opening game of the season meant that Ruud had smashed the Premier League record, of scoring in eight consecutive games, by scoring in ten. His tally of twelve goals had stood until Jamie Vardy beat this over a year ago during Leicester City’s fairy tale title season. Van Nistelrooy was also branded a villain by Arsenal for some of his rough house tactics and ‘cheating’ which resulted in the missed penalty by the Dutchman during the ‘ Battle of Old Trafford’. `A 0-0 draw would allow Arsenal to carry on their season undefeated.

Van Nistelrooy started the next season carrying a knock and although struggled for the most part of the season, picking up niggling injuries, still managed to reach the 30 goals milestone in the Champions League and exorcise the demons of his missed penalty against Arsenal, the previous season. Arsenal, going for their 50th game without defeat, succumbed to a 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford. Chelsea would go on to win the League and United would lose to Arsenal on penalties in the FA cup final.

Ruud started the season with a bang and scored in his first four games. He would end up on 21 strikes, just falling short to Thierry Henry, although had Ruud played the full season, would no doubt have smashed the Frenchman’s tally. By the time the 2005/06 season was nearing its end, cracks were reportedly starting to appear with the Dutchman’s credibility in the squad. A training ground bust up with Cristiano Ronaldo had angered the boss who subsequently sided with the young Portuguese winger. Van Nistelrooy found himself on the bench for the title run in and even the League Cup final against Wigan, with Sir Alex opting for Rooney and Saha.

Van Nistelrooy was soon to be shipped out to Real Madrid. His 150 goals in 219 games is an absolute class return. For some fans, including myself, the thought of him wearing another team shirt, and sticking the ball in the net, hurt! Don’t worry Ruud, you can score goals for fun in this team.

Honours:

Premier League: 2002–03
FA Cup: 2003–04
Football League Cup: 2005–06
FA Community Shield: 2003

Individual Honours:

Premier League Player of the Month: December 2001, February 2002, April 2003
UEFA Champions League Top Scorer: 2001–02, 2002–03, 2004–05
UEFA Champions League Top Assists: 2001–02
Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year: 2001–02, 2002–03
ESM Team of the Year: 2001–02
IFFHS World’s Top Goal Scorer of the Year: 2002
PFA Fans’ Player of the Year: 2002
PFA Players’ Player of the Year: 2001–02
PFA Premier League Team of the Year: 2001–02, 2003–04
Premier League Goal of the Month: March 2003
Premier League Player of the Season: 2002–03
Premier League Golden Boot: 2002–03
2004 FA Cup Final: Man of the match
UEFA Club Forward of the Year: 2002–03
UEFA Team of the Year: 2003
FIFA 100
UEFA Euro Team of the Tournament: 2004

So there we have it folks. My ultimate Manchester United eleven. Some absolute top players missed out. This team would no doubt have won the lot.

Schmeichel

Neville Stam Vidic Irwin

Beckham Keane Scholes Giggs

Cantona

Van Nistelrooy

About the Author

John McNicoll
Southern Red and Football enthusiast.