SASoccermag.co.za looks back at the legends of the Premier League, and today features Ruud van Nistelrooy and his exploits in the 2002-2003 season.
Van Nistelrooy ended his Manchester United career as one of the most feared goal-scorers in Europe, but it was an illustrious signing that almost never was.
A failed move in the summer of 2000 looked set to end his Old Trafford tenure before it began, but Sir Alex Ferguson’s faith in his abilities ensured the Dutch striker got his chance and completed a £19-million move in 2001.
Van Nistelrooy took to the Premier League like a natural, scoring 23 goals in his debut season. It was in the 2002-03 campaign when he stamped his mark on the English game, spearheading the Red Devils’ title charge by scoring in eight consecutive matches, equalling his record from the previous year.
United, trailing Arsenal on 2 March, won the league by five points with Newcastle and Chelsea rounding out the top four. Van Nistelrooy bagged three hat-tricks en route to claiming the Golden Boot award, pipping Thierry Henry’s tally of 24 by one, while James Beattie finished on 23 goals for the season. West Ham, West Brom and Sunderland were relegated into the First Division.
Van Nistelrooy continued to plunder in the goals and ended his stay as an Old Trafford legend, having scored 95 goals in 150 league appearances.
The decision to sell him to Real Madrid in 2006 shocked many fans as the reason for his departure remained clouded in mystery. Ferguson has since revealed that the final straw came when the hot- headed striker swore at him after being left on the sidelines for the 2006 League Cup final.
‘There were quite a few altercations all the way through his final season with us, but it was mainly Van Nistelrooy on Ronaldo,’ Ferguson wrote in his autobiography. ‘The whole episode was very sad. Why Ruud changed, I don’t know. I can’t say for sure whether it was his way of getting himself out of Old Trafford.’
Van Nistelrooy added two La Liga titles with Madrid to his list of honours, before his career fizzled out due to injuries.