Lord Bargain - Players I Love - Ruud van Nistelrooy
This man re-ignited my interest in being a Manchester United supporter. I have only ever had one players name on the back of my jersey in all my years watching football, and I shall continue to proudly wear my 2001 "10 - Van Nistelrooy" shirt as long as it survives my washing machine.
For me, he was far more than a prolific goalscorer. From his first game, the fans could tell that we had bought someone who was going to score us goals (two on his Premiership debut) but also someone who was prepared to roll his sleeves up and work hard for the side. His energy levels and capacity to run and run were exactly the sort of things to immediately enamour him to the United faithful.
His goalscoring record at United was immense. 150 goals in 219 appearances. 38 Champions League goals in 47 appearances. A Premiership record for scoring in eight consecutive games. Bear in mind also that for most of this time he was up front on his own with no partner as Ferguson attempted to put the square pegs of Juan Veron and latterly Roy Keane into the round hole of the centre of United's midfield.
I don't think I have ever seen a player as capable of controlling a ball instantly, irrespective of at what height it came to him and at what pace as the Dutchman. He could kill any ball stone dead on his chest or with his huge feet, with his back to goal. He is also blessed with much more pace and skill than you would be led to believe, and his penalty technique (save for one memorable miss against Arsenal) is also ice-cool.
van Nistelrooy also managed to largely achieve one of the most difficult things a United player can manage - that is the ability to be respected and generally tolerated by fans of other clubs. Most United players tend to be bitterly hated by opponents, but I always got the impression that van Nistelrooy - a model professional with integrity if ever there was one - was begrudgingly admired by other football fans. Sure, he had a tendency to go down a bit easily in the penalty area at cerain times, but his work rate and finishing were second to none.
And now, he's off to Spain with his name added to the list of ex-United greats who crossed Sir Alex. His recent performances for both United and Holland have not been up to his previously high standards (although remember he nearly ended up being the Premiership's top goalscorer last season having not played much after February) and so perhaps the timing of his departure was right. I will just always remember the committed, skilful and polished goalscorer that graced Old Trafford for five years.