Ruud van Nistelrooy has just been announced as the new PSV manager, a role he’ll take up at the start of next season and which will take his long and glittering career in a new direction.
One chapter of that career which is somehow tragically oft-forgotten is his time at Real Madrid where, as his name suggests, he was routinely rude to any La Liga defender that tried to get in his way.
By that, we mean he was so outrageously good at times he probably should have been banned from the sport for going against the spirit of football; finishing should be hard, so why was it so easy for him?
One goal that you’ve never seen encapsulated his brilliance, and highlights exactly why he could make the perfect coach to young strikers.
Rarely with impressive team goals are the finishes ever good, for they have no reason to be. They shouldn’t have to be any more than simple one-touch tap-ins after a ball across the front of goal.
Think of the hundreds of goals masterminded by Pep Guardiola; so often it’s the build-up rather than the finish that lives long in the memory.
A lot of Van Nistelrooy’s goals were like that. At Manchester United, the story is that he only ever scored one goal from outside the box, and at Real he continued his trend of being one of the finest finishers the game has ever seen.
If the ball landed at his feet anywhere in the box, the goalkeeper may as well not be there, the defenders might as well be replaced by mannequins and it may as well just be a training session rather than an actual match: he was going to score.
That’s seen him decried as a ‘tap-in’ merchant at times, but to be so good at poaching takes more than just instinct. His movement was like no one else’s.
He was a Dutch ballet artist, bounding around the penalty box that was his stage, and gently moving to the music that was the beautiful football that was played around him.
Yet this one goal for Real was a pure heavy metal finish. Well, the finish was; the build-up was poetry in motion.
One touch play from Real Madrid finished off by Ruud.
Utter perfection. 👌🤤 pic.twitter.com/nZQDPRwwVu
— SPORTbible (@sportbible) March 28, 2022
It was one-touch football from a star-studded Madrid side against a good Valencia team. Madrid had a young Sergio Ramos at the back alongside World Cup winner Fabio Cannavaro and Raul in the No.10 role (but wearing No.7, of course).
All that talent was spearheaded by Van Nistelrooy, who dropped off into the midfield to chest down a ball by Miguel Salgado for a young Gonzalo Higuain.
Then the orchestra started playing.
Higuain and Mahamadou Diarra combined for a one-two, then out the ball went to Robinho who backheeled it for Gago to play it out wide where, steaming down the left, was Miguel Torres who sent the ball floating towards the far side of the box.
There Van Nistelrooy waited, but while everyone else was playing a beautiful symphony he had other ideas. He had got his amp out, plugged his electric guitar in and steadied himself, before dialling it to 11 and playing one deafening chord as he shot.
It was a powerful, audacious shot that roared past Valencia’s ‘keeper, his strike across the ball causing it to spin outwards and then inwards. Have that for a one-touch finish.
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Whether Van Nistelrooy will be a success as a coach is simply an unknown factor, but he’s been learning at PSV long before he was announced as the new manager.
He moved up the ranks from the Under-19s job to the Jong PSV side in the Netherlands’ second division, and they’re now ready to take a calculated risk on him.
It’s a big job. PSV have run Ajax close this year but look as if they’ll just fall short, and with Erik Ten Hag likely leaving in the summer the question is can Van Nistelrooy seize the footballing power vacuum Ten Hag’s departure will leave.
The standout quality of his illustrious playing career was his lethal instinct – knowing exactly how to be in the right place at the right time.
That knowledge may prove invaluable in getting the best out of PSV’s young attackers like English winger Noni Madueke or Dutch starlet Cody Gakpo – although keeping them may be a hard enough task itself.
So here’s to Van Nistelrooy, one of the finest finishers of the 21st century. If his players can take on even a fraction of his ability, they’ll probably win the league and then some.
By Patrick Ryan