A prolific goal-getter, Ruud van Nistelrooy’s scoring exploits at Old Trafford have safeguarded his place in United folklore.
The Dutchman struck 100 goals in his first three seasons in Manchester. He overtook United legend Denis Law’s title as the club's all-time top scorer in European competition in his fourth term, and by the end of his fifth year at Old Trafford he’d reached 150 goals in fewer than 200 starts.
United initially had to be patient to get their man, however. Ruud marked his 22nd birthday by signing for PSV Eindhoven from Heerenveen for £4.2million, a then record fee between Dutch clubs.
His first league goal for PSV came against his former club in August 1998, and his international debut for Holland followed in November that year in a 1-1 draw with Germany. In two seasons Ruud notched 60 goals for PSV, alerting Europe’s top clubs, including United and Real Madrid.
Sir Alex was determined to sign van Nistelrooy. So much so, he kept in contact with the player for a year as he recovered from the cruciate knee ligament injury Ruud suffered whilst training with PSV. The setback came days after failing a medical with United in April 2000. After a remarkable recovery, he finally signed for the Reds on 23 April 2001 for £19m.
Ruud netted 36 goals in his debut season, a frightening achievement that was incredibly eclipsed in the 2002/03 season as he scored 44 times to inspire United to the Premiership title. Another 30 goals followed in his third season.
Injury ruined his 2004/05 campaign, although he still scored 16 goals in 27 appearances and finished top scorer in the Champions League with eight goals.
The 2005/06 campaign was also tempered with disappointment. Ten goals in 12 games saw Ruud get off to a flyer. By December he had 17 goals from 26 starts. But the return to form and fitness of Louis Saha saw van Nistelrooy edged out of the side.
He was an unused substitute in the Carling Cup final win and wasn’t included in the squad to face Charlton on the final day of the season, with Sir Alex citing issues around “the spirit of the club” as the reason for Ruud’s exclusion.
The Dutch striker left Old Trafford in the summer of 2006 and headed to Spain to join Real Madrid.