Ruud Van Nistelrooy
“MY DREAM IS TO WIN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE”
Ruud Van Nistelrooy has been one of the world’s best strikers for many years. The 30-year-old Dutchman, who moved to Real Madrid in 2006, talks about the secret of his success, English and Spanish football, his idols and the future.
Q: Is Real Madrid as great as club on the inside as it appears from the outside?
Ruud Van Nistelrooy: From the outside you can already tell that it’s a massive club. When you first arrive, the people here try to make you feel like part of the family. They received me with open arms, took me everywhere, came with me when I was house-hunting and generally helped me settle quickly. Everything is very professional, wherever you go: the Santiago Bernabeu, the training ground, everything is top class. It’s a dream to be part of Real Madrid.
Q: What about from a sporting standpoint?
Ruud Van Nistelrooy: Everything about Real Madrid is geared towards winning; their history leaves them with no choice. The first thing they teach you is how to win. Luckily for me, I am used to this atmosphere because I came from another big club, Manchester United, which will always have a place in my heart. It was wonderful to play there and celebrate with the fans; those years were an important part of my life.
Q: Di Stefano, Puskas, Santillana, Hugo Sanchez, Zamorano, Morientes, Ronaldo…Is it a challenge to play in a position center forward, in which you have so many illustrious predecessors?
Ruud Van Nistelrooy: I was lucky enough to have played for Manchester United, a team with a similar history and legendary forwards such as George Best, Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, Mark Hughes, Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke. It’s not just a question of responsibility to the past, but also of thinking of myself and giving my all both now and in the future. I have to respect all those who preceded me in this position and made Real Madrid into such a big club. Now it is my turn and I want to show what I’m capable of.
Q: Do you like living in Spain, in Madrid?
Ruud Van Nistelrooy: Yes, of course. It’s also a good opportunity for me in that I have the chance to get to know a new country and learn a new language. My first daughter Moa Annette, was born recently, so I’m loving life in Spain, everything’s going brilliantly.
Q: Raul, Di Stefano and Van Nistelrooy are three of the four top scorers in the history of the European Cup. Would it be fair to say therefore that Real Madrid are the best team in the world?
Ruud Van Nistelrooy: Unless I’m mistaken, Real Madrid were chosen as the 20th century’s best club a few years ago. They have won nine European Cups and many other trophies, so it is logical to think they are. That’s why I’m proud to be part of this team and my aim is to win as many honors as possible. Rather than setting myself personal targets, I prefer to aim to win the Champions League, for example. So far, I’ve reached the semi-finals.
Q: To which person in football are you the most grateful?
Ruud Van Nistelrooy: Sir Bobby Robson. He was the coach during my first season at PSV Eindhoven. It was difficult for me, I was young, 22 years old, and Heerenoveen has sold me for a very big fee. Sir Bobby put his trust in me, he believed in me and I had an incredible season. I scored 31 goals in 34 matches. To be honest, I think I played a lot better than I ever thought I could, beyond my actual capabilities. From that moment on I learnt to always look forward, to be positive, to have confidence in myself and to work hard every day. I also cannot forget Sir Alex Ferguson, who gave me the chance to play for Manchester United. In some ways he was similar to Sir Bobby. He trusted and believed in me and I learnt a lot from him. That’s why when I look back, I always remember the great times I had at PSV and Manchester United.
Q: Tell us the secret of being world-class goalscorer.
Ruud Van Nistelrooy: The main thing is knowing where to position yourself in the penalty area and anticipating what might happen, reading the game and guessing where the ball or your team-mate’s pass is going to go, knowing which space to move into, checking the defender’s position, all in a few tenths of a second. And then of course, you have to be a good finisher and shoot first time, if possible.
Q: Who is the best center forward you have ever seen?
Ruud Van Nistelrooy: (He think about it for a long time and I hint that I can think of one) Van Basten? (I nod). I never saw him in the flesh. I think Ronaldo is the best player of my generation. If you analyze his career, the goals he has scored, he is in a class of his own. Very few players are capable of emulating his ability to get away from two or three opponents and score so many goals. Ronaldo is the best player of my generation…and the previous one too.
Q: And the best player?
Ruud Van Nistelrooy: Zizou, Zidane was marvelous to watch. He did everything so well and made it look so easy, his control, touch, and balance, so graceful, as if he was dancing whilst he played. I was so sorry to hear he was leaving us. I wish he had stayed on another year so that I could play with him. What a pity! His secret was to do everything beautifully, not to entertain but because it was the best way for him to cross, mark or shoot with a technique, vision and style that nobody else has possessed. He was a genius.
Q: Let’s go through your old teams. You cut your teeth in thr Netherlandes at two modest clubs, Den Bosch and Heerenveen. At the first of those clubs, you were a… center defender!
Ruud Van Nistelrooy: My coach at Den Bosch, Cor Adriaanse (not to be confused with former Porto coach Co Adriaanse), thought that to learn to play football well, you should play a different position in almost every match, so one day I would play in central midfield, the next day I would be on the left wing, then I would play right back or center half. He did it with all the players, not just with me. I learnt a lot from him and he was important for my career, first of all in the youth team for three years and then in the first team.
Q: How did you establish yourself as a center forward?
Ruud Van Nistelrooy: When I signed for Heerenveen, the coach was Foppe de Haan and he told me, “I think you should play as a forward, you have the ability to score a lot of goals.” The first thing he taught me was to receive the ball with my back to goal because I used to play in midfield and I always faced forward. He taught me a lot and gave me a confidence in myself. He told me not to worry, that I would play ten matches in a row to see how I did. And I’ve never looked back.
Q: Wim Kieft, Romario, Ronaldo, Kezman…Is anyone missing from this list of forwards?
Ruud Van Nistelrooy: Luc Nilis? And someone called Ruud Van Nistelrooy, of course.
Q: What secret do PSV Eindhoven possess that has enabled them to unearth one world-class striker after another?
Ruud Van Nistelrooy: Above all, I think that they are very good at scouting. They also watch a lot of young players. All the players you named joined before they were 25 and some, like Ronaldo, who was 17, has not even turned 20. There’s also a very welcoming atmosphere at PSV, it’s like a family, they look after you, and they are great people. This combination of factors is very important in order to develop as a footballer. It is a club that is geared towards this, it’s less professional so to speak. Of course, they want to win matches and trophies, but Eindhoven is in the south of the Netherlands and it’s different: people live very well and have quiets lives.
Q: What does 6 March 2000 mean to you?
Ruud Van Nistelrooy: A day to forget: my first serious knee injury. It was a friendly match against a Danish team, Silkeborg. I should never have played in that match. I had family problems: my grandfather had just died, my parents had divorced that same year and my head was not right for that game, which was completely meaningless anyway. It wasn’t even played in a stadium, but on a training ground instead. Ever since, I have regretting not approaching the coach to tell him that I was not in the right frame of mind to play.
Q: Did you think at any point that your footballing career was over?
Ruud Van Nistelrooy: I had a bad time and I did think the worst. The thing is that when they tell you that you have a cruciate ligament injury, you immediately think that you won’t be back for eight months at the very earliest. But I calmed down after I had spoken to players who had the same problem, such as Marc Overmars. He said: “Don’t worry, the operation went fine and what you need now is a good rehabilitation program.” And luckily, he was right.
Q: You scored 150 goals in 219 appearances for Manchester United and became the club’s highest ever goalscorer in European competition. Do you think your departure from Old Trafford should have come about in any different circumstances?
Ruud Van Nistelrooy: After all the great times that I had there, the way which everything ended was not what I would have wanted and I’m sure Manchester United feel the same way. Everything was fine until one particular incident took place, in which everyone has their share of the blame. It was partly my fault and partly coach’s fault. But these things happen sometimes. Now I am at Real Madrid, which is a fantastic opportunity, and I prefer to remember all the good things that I experienced at Manchester United. Now United are going very well at the Premiership, they are playing magnificently and I’m very happy for them.
Q: Your 28 goals in 54 matches for the Dutch national team were not enough to end the 2006 FIFA World Cup TM in the starting line-up. How would you describe your relationship with national coach Van Basten?
Ruud Van Nistelrooy: Van Basten was not happy with my performances in the first few matches in the FIFA World Cup in Germany and decided to pick another forward for the match against Portugal. That’s what really happened. I couldn’t understand it, but it was the coach’s decision. I told him personally, “ I don’t understand it, I think you’re making a mistake, but it’s your decision and I respect it. I’ll be ready on the bench in case you need me.” In the end, I spent the whole 90 minutes on the bench. We were losing 1 – 0 to Portugal and I thought I would get my chance, but not even in those circumstances. Everything has been very difficult since then.. if he didn’t use me, then it’s probably because he’s lost faith in me. But I would not rule out returning to the Dutch national team, even while Van Basten is in charge. We spoke on the telephone when Huntelaar was injured. He called and we spoke about young players, football, us, and me, the Dutch team. But we do not see eye to eye. Who knows, maybe next time…