Van Nistelrooy v Henry: A rivalry for the ages
In the latest UTD Podcast, Paul Scholes recalls how Ruud van Nistelrooy was obsessed with scoring more goals than Arsenal striker Thierry Henry throughout the Dutchman’s five years as a Red.
During that period of time, Arsenal were considered major rivals for the Premier League title and matches against the Gunners were always highly competitive, heated and often controversial affairs. The rivalry with Arsene Wenger’s squad was also extended to individual statistics, as Scholes explains, with van Nistelrooy so desperate to outscore his fellow striker Henry each season.
“I played no. 10 with Ruud for a season and I loved it,”says Paul in our UTD Podcast.
“He’s just a ruthless, ruthless goalscorer. He just lived for scoring goals. Whenever he did score or didn’t score, the first thing he would do when we got on the team bus, after the game, was see if Henry scored.
“If Henry had scored, he wouldn’t talk to anybody for the full trip home because he was so engrossed in being the leading goalscorer. Not just at United but in the league, in the world, everywhere.
“I loved the way he finished as well. Look, I played with some unbelievable centre-forwards. You are thinking Cole, Yorke, Sheringham, Solskjaer. There are loads. Van Persie, I played with as well. There are some unbelievable goalscorers. But, to me, Ruud was the best, he was the best finisher.”
VAN NISTELROOY V HENRY
The healthy competition between Ruud and Thierry burned intensely for five seasons, driving the goalscoring legends to achieve remarkable statistics across all competitions.
Each of them entered the history books, too. Van Nistelrooy, for example, scored 44 goals across all competitions in 2002/03 and no Premier League player has ever netted more in a single campaign. The Dutchman also scored in 10 consecutive Premier League matches in 2003 and that record stood until 2015, when Ruud was quick to congratulate Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy on reaching 11 successive games.
While Henry won more Golden Boot awards during their incredible rivalry, with four to his name (helped partly by van Nistelrooy's injury troubles in 2004/05), the real winners were us fans who witnessed greatness each week.
Irrespective of your allegiance, watching both men in action was a genuine treat for all football fans and the standards they set have arguably not been met since.
Here’s how Ruud and Thierry performed across five memorable seasons in England, as the leading men for United and Arsenal…
2001/02 = 36 goals across all comps (23 in Premier League)
2002/03 = 44 goals across all comps (25 in Premier League)
2003/04 = 30 goals across all comps (20 in Premier League)
2004/05 = 16 goals across all comps (6 in Premier League)
2005/06 = 23 goals across all comps (21 in Premier League)
2001/02 = 31 goals across all comps (24 in Premier League)
2002/03 = 32 goals across all comps (24 in Premier League)
2003/04 = 39 goals across all comps (30 in Premier League)
2004/05 = 30 goals across all comps (25 in Premier League)
2005/06 = 33 goals across all comps (27 in Premier League)
Hear more from Paul Scholes in his UTD Podcast with Marcus Rashford, which is available to stream from 17:00 BST on Monday.