Ruud van Nistelrooy: United fan favourite turned coach

Ruud van Nistelrooy: United fan favourite turned coach

Manchester United’s backroom team has had a Dutch overhaul this summer, but it wasn’t the one most fans expected. 

With Erik ten Hag having signed a one-year contract extension after months of speculation surrounding his future, it is a surprising former Red Devils’ star who has been making the headlines.

Ruud van Nistelrooy has been all but announced as a new Man Utd assistant coach. The retired striker was spotted being driven into the club’s Carrington training centre for the day and was later photographed heading into a Manchester hotel.

Van Nistelrooy is rumoured to have turned down an approach by Burnley to replace Vincent Kompany, in favour of a return to his old stomping ground Old Trafford. 

But what can Erik Ten Hag, his players and, of course, Man United fans expect from their former star striker in his new role as assistant coach?

Ruud van Nistelrooy returns to his Manchester hotel after visiting Man United’s training ground

Van Nistelrooy was assistant to both Guus Hiddink and Ronald Koeman for the Netherlands and has helped young Dutch talents Cody Gakpo and Xavi Simons reach the top level of the game

Van Nistelrooy was assistant to both Guus Hiddink and Ronald Koeman for the Netherlands and has helped young Dutch talents Cody Gakpo and Xavi Simons reach the top level of the game

The 48-year-old’s playing career took him from Den Bosch, Heerenveen and PSV in the Netherlands to Manchester United, Real Madrid, Hamburg and Malaga.

And as a coach Van Nistelrooy has established a similarly strong CV. He worked his way up the PSV youth teams and was an assistant for Guus Hiddink with the Dutch national team for two years after the 2014 World Cup and for Ronald Koeman at EURO 2020.

Then in 2021 he made his first foray as a head coach with Jong PSV, Eindhoven’s reserve team in the Dutch second division.

Things didn’t go entirely as planned as Jong PSV recorded just 11 wins, 11 draws and 16 losses. Despite that, he was appointed PSV head coach on a three-year contract.

But Van Nistlerooy’s time with PSV ended after just one successful season as he resigned last May citing ‘a lack of support within the club’.

That was despite winning the Dutch Cup and Dutch Super Cup and guiding PSV to second in the league 10 points behind Arne Slot’s then Feyenoord side.

Man United fans will be happy to know that Van Nistelrooy has experience beating Slot too. When the pair faced off in the league in 2022, Van Nistelrooy’s PSV came out on top in a 4-3 thriller before drawing the away fixture 2-2.

Van Nistelrooy’s side also beat Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal 2-0 in the Europa League group stage that season. He called Arteta a ‘top manager’ and ‘class act’.

'Van Goal' scored 36 goals in his first season at Old Trafford before beating notching 44 in his second year at the club

Van Nistelrooy has praised Sir Alex Ferguson for his influence on him and helping to learn how to better man-manage but the pair fell out infamously in 2006

Van Nistelrooy was ruthlessly effective for Sir Alex Ferguson, who he praised for his influence on him and helping him to better man-manage, but the pair fell out infamously in 2006

New assistant coach Van Nistelrooy beat both Arne Slot and Mikel Arteta as PSV head coach

New assistant coach Van Nistelrooy beat both Arne Slot and Mikel Arteta as PSV head coach

Van Nistelrooy has been brought in by Man Utd to help out his fellow Dutchman Erik ten Hag

Van Nistelrooy has been brought in by Man Utd to help out his fellow Dutchman Erik ten Hag

But for all his coaching talents, it was during his five playing seasons at United that the Dutchman truly made a name for himself, scoring a staggering 150 goals in only 219 games between 2001-06.

In his first season he scored 36 goals alone, a tally he eclipsed the following season with 44.

With United’s attack sometimes leaving much to be desired and star Marcus Rashford struggling for form last season, might the return of Van Nistelrooy spur Ten Hag’s talented but somewhat raw forwards up the goal charts?

United fans may remember that after the last opportunity the Dutchman was given in Manchester to help the clubs young players, he had a falling out with Sir Alex Ferguson that sparked his ultimate departure from the club.

The striker swore at Ferguson after he was an unused substitute when United won the 2006 League Cup final. Ferguson wanted to leave on younger players Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo to give them a taste of glory. Van Nistelrooy was soon sold to Real Madrid but looks back on the incident with regret.

‘It was just really disrespectful… It wasn’t all that outrageous in terms of words but it was completely out of order. Not done. I wasn’t proud of it, I’m still not,’ he said.

Van Nistelrooy enjoyed coaching against new Liverpool coach Arne Slot, particularly when he beat Slot 4-3 in 2022 for PSV

Van Nistelrooy also beat Arteta 2-0 when he was PSV coach in the 2022-23 Europa League group stage

Van Nistelrooy has a strong track-record as a head coach against Man Utd’s main rivals, beating new Liverpool head coach Arne Slot 4-3 and Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal 2-0 in 2022

Top Man Utd target Jarrad Branthwaite made 27 appearances at PSV for Van Nistelrooy

Top Man Utd target Jarrad Branthwaite made 27 appearances at PSV for Van Nistelrooy 

While he may regret how his relationship with one of United’s greatest-ever managers capitulated, Van Nistelrooy learnt a lot from Ferguson and greatly admires him as a man-manager.

‘The most important thing I took from working with Sir Bobby Robson and Sir Alex Ferguson was their relationships with the individual. It’s not a football player; it’s a person. When you reach that connection, you get the best out of people – and from there on you can help them build their careers. I never let that thought go out of my mind.

‘Sometimes you have to be tough on them, of course, and sometimes you have to get your arm around them. That mixture is important, but the most important thing is to always be honest and straight.’

This will surely be good news for all Man United fans who will want to see the Dutchman hone the finishing of the raw Hojlund and potential new signing Joshua Zirkzee of Bologna.

Van Nistelrooy has clearly been on a learning curve in his attitude toward younger players since leaving Manchester.

A similar situation to the one in the League Cup final emerged during his final season as a player at Malaga under Manuel Pellegrini. He was told he wasn’t going to be a regular starter, but unlike before, Van Nistelrooy saw it as an opportunity to help.

‘It made me transform my ideas and think, “okay, how can I help these guys?” Off the pitch, I could give them advice on how to create a lifestyle that would benefit them as a player. On the pitch, I could help them improve as players,’ he told Coaches Voice.

He won the Dutch Cup and Dutch Super Cup with PSV but still resigned in 2023

He won the Dutch Cup and Dutch Super Cup with PSV but still resigned in 2023

Van Nistelrooy scored 64 goals in 96 games for Real Madrid after leaving United in 2006

Van Nistelrooy scored 64 goals in 96 games for Real Madrid after leaving United in 2006

Among his success stories in terms of helping young attackers have been current Liverpool and Dutch player Cody Gakpo and Chelsea attacker Noni Madueke, as well as Xavi Simons.

Another non-attacker that United fans will hope for van Nistelrooy to wield his positive influence over is their top target Jarrad Branthwaite who made 27 appearances for Van Nistelrooy’s PSV while on loan from Everton. The experience clearly helped the young defender as he became a mainstay in Everton’s team last season and Utd are now offering £50million for him.

Whether Van Nistelrooy’s goal-scoring prowess and man-management skills will turn Man United’s fortunes around is impossible to say, yet. 

But if United continue to falter under Erik Ten Hag, the returning fan favourite Van Nistelrooy, with established success as a head coach, may just become a contender to take the reigns at Old Trafford. 

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