Ruud van Nistelrooy with Sir Alex Ferguson.

How United signed van Nistelrooy and van Persie

Wednesday 22 April 2020 07:00

Sir Alex Ferguson made some spectacular signings during his managerial career but two of his best captures were deadly Dutch strikers Ruud van Nistelrooy and Robin van Persie.

Both deals were fraught with difficulty, for different reasons. Both would provide a regular output of goals and earn a place in the hearts of all Manchester United fans forever.

United were the dominant force in English football, a year after the Treble success, when pursuing van Nistelrooy, PSV Eindhoven’s main marksman. Chelsea had been strongly linked with the promising Netherlands international but Ferguson initially won the chase for his signature.

The hitch, however, was a major one. As journalists waited for the new boy’s unveiling, the chair behind the desk famously remained empty as the club’s physios identified a knee problem during the medical.

Top 10: Van Nistelrooy's Premier League goals Video

Top 10: Van Nistelrooy's Premier League goals

If you're looking for goals, look no further than Ruud van Nistelrooy! Watch his 10 best in the league...

Van Nistelrooy returned to Eindhoven with Euro 2000 on the horizon but the cruciate ligament in his knee gave way in a training session, with the player’s howls of agony caught on video camera. Sir Alex remained true to his word, kept in regular contact with his main target, and the deal was done a year later than planned – for a British record fee.

"It was a big disappointment that the move didn't go through," admitted the striker, at the time. "But now, after a hard time fighting to come back, I've made it and it's fantastic. This move is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I never stopped believing it would happen."

Ferguson was simply convinced his patience would pay off. "It was a difficult injury but, these days, not career-threatening," he explained. "We had to wait until he started playing again and, the minute he started playing, I was going to progress with it. I think he will develop into something we haven't had. When you see someone of emerging potential, what you are doing really is putting something in the bank. You can't ignore the sort of potential Ruud has, no matter how many strikers you have."

Van Nistelrooy made up for lost time, scoring on his competitive debut against Liverpool in the Community Shield, and never looked back. He was a brilliant goalscorer and, naturally, the signing of van Persie in 2012 sparked comparisons with his fellow countryman.

Robin was different, a proven Premier League predator, who had matured into one of the division’s top players at Arsenal. He was coming up for 29 and the problem was the competition for his signature. Manchester City’s fans were so convinced he would follow Gael Clichy, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Adebayor and Samir Nasri in trading the Emirates for the Etihad that they chanted his name during a game between the clubs.

As van Persie rejected attempts to extend his contract with the Gunners, it left the Londoners fearing losing their talisman for nothing in the following summer. Juventus showed real interest and hoped they would be in a better position to do business with Arsene Wenger’s side. It took the personal touch from Ferguson to get the deal done.

”It was a difficult one,” Sir Alex told Inside United, the official club magazine, at the time. “Understandably, Arsene didn't want to sell to Manchester United. If you look at the last 25 years, apart from when I first came down, since the day Arsenal won the league in 1989, right up to today, we've been really big rivals to each other - whether it's been George Graham or Arsene Wenger. It wouldn't be easy for Wenger to accept the player wanted to come to us.

Van Persie: All 48 Premier League goals Video

Van Persie: All 48 Premier League goals

Watch all 48 of Robin's Premier League goals for United, including 26 from that incredible debut season...

"It took a bit of time but the player wanted to come. I think that was the key to it all and that opened the door for us. He told the other clubs he didn't want to play for them, he wanted to play for Manchester United. So, in that sense, it made it a little bit easier for us in terms of the negotiations but Arsene was still wanting top dollar and he fought hard to get the price he got, which I think was a good price for them.

"It was the first time I've had to speak to a manager for a long while," added the boss. "When I first came down, the old way of doing things was I'd phone the manager to negotiate and the two chairmen or secretaries would get together to finalise it. Those days are gone now. I suppose with the advent of agents' involvement in deals, I'll quite happily sit out of it because I can't be bothered with it. Our chief executive David Gill does all that now, you know, but in this situation I think the phone call to Arsene helped.”

Van Persie put pen to paper and spoke of the ‘little boy’ inside him screaming to join United and made clear the time was right to start winning personal honours, without openly ever criticising his former club. “I am looking forward to following in the footsteps of so many great strikers,” he said. “Bringing my experience and playing my part to help the team compete for the biggest trophies in the game.”
When Ruud scored in 10 straight matches Video

When Ruud scored in 10 straight matches

See how van Nistelrooy scored in 10 consecutive Premier League games for United, setting a record at the time...

It proved to be just the tonic after losing out to City for the title in the dying seconds of the previous campaign. “Yes, there was a general uplift in terms of the mood of the place,” agreed the boss. “The players were saying it's brilliant. At the end of the day, if you've got better players than the rest, you're going to get at least better results than the rest. As I say, if we can integrate that really top player into the framework of the team and the work ehthic of the team, we should be okay.” He was right. Van Persie was the main man as the Reds won our 20th title in the manager’s final season in charge.

Two brilliant strikers.

Two outstanding pieces of transfer business by Sir Alex and United.

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