'They're Ruud'ing you, not booing!'
For five years between 2001 and 2006, it was the dominant sound at Old Trafford.
Every time Ruud van Nistelrooy struck at the Theatre of Dreams – and he did so on 83 occasions – the crowd would bellow the hotshot forward’s first name.
Two of those goals came in the former PSV Eindhoven man’s first game at the famous old ground, in a 3-2 victory over Fulham, and in the latest UTD Podcast, the Dutchman has described how fellow striker Dwight Yorke had to inform him that the fans were screaming ‘Ruuuuud!’, rather than booing him.
“I didn’t understand in the beginning but it was great to walk out through the tunnel for the first time and make your home debut,” Ruud told us.
“Of course, you want to score and win the game. It really is a great feeling when you walk out that tunnel. On the left side, the Stretford End… The reception was immediately there.
“Yorkie said ‘they’re Ruud’ing you’ and not booing. ‘Okay’, I said, ‘that makes it better’.
“To score against [future United keeper] Edwin [van der Sar], a couple… He said to me ‘Unlucky for your debut, you’re not scoring today’ before the game, so that was fun, to get a couple against him and score two in front of the Stretford End, yeah.”
That sunny August afternoon meeting with the Cottagers was the first glimpse we’d had of van Nistelrooy in M16.
But the relationship between the Netherlands international and the supporters had already been established a week previously, as he scored in a 2-1 defeat to rivals Liverpool at the Millennium Stadium, in the season’s traditional curtain raiser.
“I felt it [the connection with the fans] right from the start. The Charity Shield, we lost to Liverpool but I was able to score a goal,” van Nistelrooy added.
“That was important to get your official debut, get your first goal and get going.
“I’ll never look back from that, the confidence comes even more and I never looked back.”
20 iconic images of Ruud Gallery
Scroll through this action-packed gallery, as we celebrate our latest UTD Podcast guest.
Van Nistelrooy started scoring in Cardiff and barely stopped after that, netting 36 goals in 49 games in all competitions – which is still a record for a Red in their first season at the club.
He struck 23 times in the Premier League, including in a run of eight straight scoring games, as United recovered from a difficult start to challenge Arsenal and Liverpool at the top of the table.
Ultimately, the Reds couldn’t do enough to prevent the Gunners winning the league and there was a further blow for Ruud as he was left out the final game of the season against Charlton and later learned that Thierry Henry had scored the two goals he needed to overtake our man in the goalscoring charts.
However, he recalls that was a deliberate tactic engineered by Sir Alex Ferguson, to get his no.10 to focus on improving the next season – when he would go on to fire United to the title and win the Golden Boot in the process.
“I would have loved to combine it with the league actually, to win the Premiership,” Ruud told co-host David May.
“I remember the gaffer, he put me in the stands for the last game of the season. I wasn’t injured or anything but we couldn’t win the league.
“I remember the conversation, he said ‘you’ve scored a lot but we didn’t win the league, so I’m leaving you out. You’ve had a great season and for next season it’s important to win and get our title back.’ The focus was immediately on the new season. You know, Maysie, how he could do these things.
“I was trying to be the top goalscorer and I had the last game to do so. I don’t know, I remember [Alan] Shearer was up there and Thierry.
“For me, it was a personal thing that I wanted to achieve. Then again, the mindset for the new season was created.
“I was like f***, we need to combine it next season, Golden Boot and Premiership. That goal was created that day and he knew how to f*** people off to get the most out of you.”