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Thursday, 22 April 2010

It’d Be Ruud Not To… Mention Van Nistelrooy

With English eyes trained firmly on both the amazing race that was Liverpool getting to the Vicente Calderon stadium and Fulham’s spontaneous warm-up session on the autobahn, one man who could have a huge bearing on the destination of this season’s Europa League slipped under the radar. Eighteen months ago, Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s career was hanging in the balance. Out of favour at Real Madrid, the winter transfer window should have seen English clubs queueing up to get the Dutchman’s signature. But where Premier League sides have missed a trick, Hamburg have profited.

The man who has scored more than anyone else bar Raul in European competition (an incredible 62 goals in 90 games) was shunted off to supposed obscurity in Germany in January. Anonymity, however, is one charge that cannot be levelled at a man with the scoring calibre of Van Nistelrooy. A career total of 331 in 528 and hugely successful stints at Old Trafford and the Bernabeu point to a striker who doesn’t just score goals; he scores them with a regularity few can match. Oh how Liverpool, shorn of the delectable talents of Fernando Torres, could do with the big Dutchman leading their attack against Atletico Madrid tonight. And lest we forget, Van Nistelrooy was available on a free transfer. What was Benitez thinking by instead going to the other Madrid club and shelling out £1.5m on Maxi Rodriguez when it had been putting away chances that has been the problem at Anfield all season? Hell, what was every other Premier League manager thinking by turning down the opportunity to sign such a prolific marksman? Much has been made of how a Rooney-less United resembles a blunt instrument. Van Nistelrooy at Old Trafford? Stranger things have happened, Signing him half way through the season could have genuinely reinvigorated United but then again Sir Alex is never one to forget a feud. Imagine him then at the Emirates. One feels he could have made a major impact in the absence of Robin Van Persie. Or Villa, replacing the hapless Emile Heskey and partnering John Carew? You get the picture.

And so Van Nistelrooy lines up against Fulham tonight with four goals in eight Bundesliga games and another couple in Europe. The German media swooned when the Dutchman announced his arrival in Germany by scoring twice on his debut against Stuttgart. This was a well taken brace too, proving that age has not lessened Van Nistelrooy’s instincts in front of goal. As the man himself admits, Hamburg could only be a step down from the bright lights and big egos of Real and United. But at 33 years of age and with ambition still to burn, Van Nistelrooy remains fuelled by a burning desire to succeed and that means getting his current club to a final taking place at their home ground in May: ‘I want to get my game back on track. I've got a feeling I'm not finished,’ he has said in the build up to the first leg of the semi-final tonight. With this mindset, a hunger to propel himself into the Dutch World Cup squad and his predatory eye for goal still intact, it would be hard to bet against van Nistelrooy one day taking his place at the summit of the all-time European competition scorer’s table. Adam Bushby

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