Dutch striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy called time on his career earlier today, resisting the temptation for one more crack at the Champions League with Malaga.
The 35-year-old helped his Spanish side to a fourth-place finish in La Liga, meaning a chance to join Europe’s elite club competition once again through the qualifying rounds.
However, the 70-cap Holland international simply couldn’t make another season, and has taken the brave decision to call time on a decorated career spanning almost two decades.
"Yesterday was my final game as a professional footballer. I wanted to play in the Champions League, but it is the moment to leave,” said Van Nistelrooy.
"I have arrived at my physical limit and I can't play at the maximum level. I couldn't have had a better send-off than this."
I used the word brave because it’s rare for a player to turn down another potential payday, and the lure of the European Cup, to call time on their career. Whether the Spanish outfit would have offered him another one-year extension is up for debate, but given his track record the probability is yes.
Van Nistelrooy started his career with Den Bosch, before moving to Heerenveen and then PSV Eindhoven. It was with the Eredivisie giants that he built his reputation, scoring 62 games in 67 league appearances in a three-year spell that included a cruciate knee ligament injury.
It was an injury that appeared to throw the Old Trafford switch into jeopardy, but it only delayed the move by 10 months as Sir Alex Ferguson stuck by his man, bringing the Dutchman to England for £19 million in April 2001.
In five years with United, ‘Van the Man’ would become the club’s all-time leading scorer in Europe, notching 38 in all competitions. In the league, he scored over 20 goals in the four seasons he played more than 30 games. He would be sold to Real Madrid for €24 million in 2006 amidst reports of a rift with new signing Cristiano Ronaldo.
His first two seasons at the Santiago Bernabeu went much like his spell at Old Trafford, notching 53 goals in 80 matches in all competitions to maintain his position as one of Europe’s premier strikers.
However, things fell into decline after that, with knee and thigh injuries hampering his final two years in Spain and leading to a January ’10 exit.
It was Bundesliga outfit Hamburg who were willing to take the forward on an 18-month deal, and his time at the club was solid if unspectacular, as a new contract wasn’t placed on the table at the end of last season.
However, big-spending Malaga were happy to take Van Nistelrooy back to Spain, and he finished his career at La Rosaleda as Manuel Pellegrini’s side achieved their target of a top four finish.
In his prime one of world football’s most lethal strikers, Van Nistelrooy scored goals for his country on both the European Championship and World Cup stage, and should be remembered as one of the game’s great marksmen.