When is use of the word legend justified?
When someone gets 4 BBQ sauces with a drunken McNugget order at McD’s? – close but no!
When an Arsenal fan’s asked to describe the 20 odd game career of Coquelin? – only if it’s being used to describe the level of moron you’re speaking to!
When describing Ruud Van Nistelrooy in one word? – yes!
As I get older I get better at brushing off that feeling of loss you get when a worthy players leaves, but I’m still some distance from achieving this level of emotional maturity when it comes to United players of Ruuds stature moving on while he’s still got the legs to do a job that no one else can do as well as he could.
Many I can take the careers of with a pinch of salt, Beckham gave us his peak years, he left, but I grew up seeing him do what he did incredibly well in a United shirt. I had the honour of watching the likes of Robson, Giggs, Scholes & Gary Neville play out every ounce of their immense talent on that pitch at Old Trafford week in week out.
But in Ruud, there’s a player who we lost for a year before he even joined us due to that horrific cruciate injury. When he finally joined he hit the ground running like he was in his 6th season.
Time moved on, his greatness just increased with it! When you look at what was won in his 5 years at United, 1 league, 1 FA Cup & that infamous United career ending league cup, it’s not appalling. But you just know it don’t you, if he’d arrived 5 years earlier or later and played with the players at our disposal in those eras, he’d have left with a Van Nistelrooy wing on the museum tour at Old Trafford to celebrate all he’d won in his time at the club.
He had everything this lad, he could find a yard of space in a phone box. A minute in or a minute left, a sitter or bobbling ball on his weaker foot, it didn’t matter, he was going to do what genuine legends do in these situations, he hit the net. He did so 150 times in 219 appearances, our all-time leading scorer in European football, and a record breaking run of consecutive games in which he scored. So many things achieved in what was far too short a stint at the club fully justifies use of the word legend.
Aside from those goals he delivered so much more. He battered teams! He looked like someone had taken a prince from a sketch pad at Disney and placed him on a variety of pitches in England and Europe, but he used the charming expressions his looks gave him to get away with brutalising defenders, he dealt out a huge variety of horrible bastard knocks, loose arms and many other tricks from the dark arts bag that all the great players know how to use. His solo effort against Fulham in his 1 title winning season at the club highlighted his ability, and willingness to do it for the good of the club beautifully, back to goal on the half way line wasn’t going to cause Fulham a problem, so a forearm smash was applied as he turned and sped towards the Fulham goal, after getting away with that fling, his pace, speed & composure was too much for Fulham to handle as he cut through them and put the game to bed on his way to a beautiful hat trick.
After we came back from nowhere to win that league it gave the impression that he and the club were at the starting point of a glorious era, but unfortunately for him at least this was a false dawn. Beckham left. Ronaldo would take until after Ruud had left to become the supply line the Dutchman needed to thrive on. Scholes was between legendary roles in the side so couldn’t provide him with the game changing distribution that those before and after Ruud benefited from.
When he left in the summer of 06 I was mortified! The young lads had delivered little the previous season as Chelsea wrapped up back to back titles to suggest they had it in them to end that run any time soon.
When we wrapped up the league that Sunday in 06/07, I didn’t think I could be happier, after watching Jose do his chin up dance to the Chelsea players and fans I didn’t think I’d see anything better on TV that day. Then I watched the game where Real wrapped up La Liga, amid all the celebrations they spoke to Ruud, medal round his neck, trophy in his hands, smile on his face & most enjoyably United in his heart as he spoke of his joy at seeing that United had wrapped up the league earlier that day. It was pure class from a man who’d been just that in everything he did at United.
The history books will tell future generations that Rooney is the most prolific forward to have ever played for United, you can’t really argue with a statistical fact. But if you’ve any sense, you’ll look beyond statistics, you’ll look at not just what a player did on paper, but how he did it on the pitch, if you do, then you’ll agree that Ruud was a class above anyone of his era you choose to compare him to.
Had he and Sir Alex put their issues behind them as the great man and Rooney did after his transfer request, then the Dutchman would’ve been here long enough to take the place in United’s history that his talent deserves, at the peak of the clubs list of goalscorers. I’ve no doubt about that, he was just that good.