Former Manchester United goalscoring hero Ruud van Nistelrooy has recalled being on the receiving end of one of Roy Keane’s legendary, no-nonsense dressing room jibes.
The Dutchman, who occupies 11th position in our all-time goalscoring list having plundered 150 goals in five years at Old Trafford, appeared on Rio Ferdinand’s Vibe with Five podcast to speak about his United career last week.
The 2002/03 Golden Boot winner also provided some insight into what the dressing room was like during this period, touching on his relationships with legendary figures such as Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo.
But one of the best moments came when Ruud was asked if he, as most who have crossed his path will, had a story about Keane, the midfield general who has become a television personality in the years since retiring from the game.
“For me, he was unbelievable. He was fantastic. He led the team,” Ruud began when remembering the supreme influence of his former captain.
“We all know stories about different players, different stories about him. For me, he led the team in an unbelievable way.”
Van Nistelrooy’s Reds career was prolific from the off, with the Netherlands international scoring 36 goals in his first campaign, on the way to winning the coveted PFA Players’ Player of the Year award.
This form in front of goal wasn’t Keane’s primary concern though, with the skipper initially taking issue at one of our no.10’s sartorial choices instead.
“He was direct, everybody knows that and in the beginning I had to get used to that directness,” van Nistelrooy added.
“I had this hairband, you know? For three months, every day he was talking about that hairband: ‘get that thing out of your hair! What the **** are you doing with that thing? You’re in the Premier League now!’
“That was banter in the dressing room, but he kept you on your toes, you know?”
The image of Keane as a ferocious whirlwind of a player is perhaps the inevitable conclusion most draw from having watched him play, but Ruud tells the tale of Roy being a more placid man behind the scenes, albeit someone who could motivate himself at the flick of a switch – or, to be more precise, the peep of a referee’s whistle.
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“I remember the way he prepared for a game,” van Nistelrooy said.
“I was shocked with that. He was just reading the programme. I see him sitting there in the dressing room, so calm, so easy-going. He was having a relaxed read, you know?
“He puts on his Diadora boots, with his big round studs. Remember them? He has these shinpads that are so small, with no ankle protection, no strapping around his ankles, nothing.
“He puts on the boots, little shinpads on, jogs a few times around in the warm-up. The referee blows the whistle and there’s an animal on the pitch! I don’t know how! How does that happen?”
Ferdinand agreed with that assessment, using a very famous Arsenal v United fixture to back up Ruud’s point.
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“That’s what I used to say to all my mates,” added Ferdinand.
“There’s something wrong with him, there’s something not quite right there with him.
“Everyone else it was like here we go. With him, it was just like a switch. It was the same with the [Patrick] Vieira thing in the tunnel [at Highbury in February 2005].
“In the changing room, he was calm and quiet. Remember, Ruud? And then he got in the tunnel and this animal came out, like wow!
“He’d heard something and that triggered him and that was it, gone. You were like: you were cool a minute ago man, what’s going on?”