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Dick Advocaat

Ruud van Nistelrooy Picture: Personeelsnet

During his time, he was one of the best, the very best. But like everyone in football, time eventually catches up with you. And this week, former Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy called time on his career. And what a career.

But it could have been very different.

Van Nistelrooy started his professional career in his homeland with Den Bosch before moving to Heerenveen and then on to  PSV Eindhoven, where he made his name forming a deadly striking partnership with Belgian hitman Luc Nilis.

It was during his time at the Philips Stadion that I first saw him in action. Ahead of facing Rangers in the Champions League in 1999, PSV took on Willem II on the Saturday evening.

All eyes were on the danger men Dick Advocaat’s side might have to watch out for. Van Nistelrooy was one, already the Eredivisie Golden Boot from the previous season.

But this guy was anything but impressive. For more than an hour, while PSV were coasting, van Nistelrooy did nothing. Then he produced a McCoist-like performance (as I wrote at the time), scoring a hat-trick: one from an effort smacked into the turf which bounced over the goalie, another scrambled over the line from a few inches out, and the treble completed from the penalty spot.

Afterwards, along with a few colleagues (you got to spend a week away for Champions League games back then), I waited for van Nistelrooy in the “Mixed Zone”.

He duly arrived, was asked about the prospect of facing Rangers and former manager Dick Advocaat who had sanctioned his €6.3m move from Heerenveen. It was then, almost casually – and certainly unaware of what he was about to reveal – that he dropped into the conversation that he’d rejected a move to Rangers.

What?!

It was something no one was aware of. But Ruud explained that Advocaat had wanted him to come to Glasgow, as part of the “Oranje Revolution” – but he didn’t fancy it.

In essence, van Nistelrooy saw Scotland no differently to how he viewed the Eredivisie. In Scotland, it was about the Old Firm. In Holland, it was about PSV, Ajax and Feyenoord. The same teams dominated.

And quite simply, van Nistelrooy didn’t want to be part of the same old story year on year. So Rangers purchased Michael Mols.

Van Nistelrooy wanted a move out of Holland, targeting Germany, Spain or France. And which is why two years later, having been top scorer again in 1999–2000, winning two league titles and netting 62 goals in 67 appearances, he found himself in England, at Old Trafford, after a £19m move – although not immediately.

He ruptured cruciate knee ligaments during a training session, and missed a year. But that didn’t dissuade Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who gave the Dutchman the call he awaited. And the rest, as they say, was history.

Van Nistelrooy broke a record in his first season by scoring in eight consecutive league games. He accrued 23 goals in 32 games and was voted the PFA Players’ Player of the Year.

In all, he banged in 150 goals in 219 games in his five seasons in Manchester and guided them to the title in 2002–03.

Among all the great Premier League strikers – Cole, Yorke, Shearer, Henry – van Nistelrooy had his time at the very top.

By 2006, he was surplus to requirements – or at least that was how he was made to feel by Fergie – and made another dream move, this time to Real Madrid, just the €24m changing hands this time.

Real captured back-to-back Primera Division titles, with “RvN” netting 53 goals in two seasons. But by now, injuries were taking their toll. He was rendered idle in 2008–09 and fell behind Gonzalo Higuain, the bright young one Karim Benzema – and Raúl, the only man who would head the Dutchman’s tally of 54 goals from 81 appearances in the Champions League.

If that goals-per-game ration was impressive, so too was van Nistelrooy performance at international level: 35 goals in 70 international appearances for Holland, including strikes at Euro 2004, World Cup 2006 and Euro 2008.

A year at Hamburg, and then a further year at Malaga was van Nistelrooy’s final hurrah, before he decided to retire this week aged 35.

So, in goal-scoring terms, van Nistelrooy did it all. But I do wonder if he ever regretted not accepting Advocaat’s call?

Probably not …

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments.

Helpful for Scotland qualification <em>Picture: alexvc26</em>

Helpful for Scotland qualification Picture: alexvc26

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
Scotland’s Ricky Burns beats Michael Katsidis on points to win the WBO interim lightweight title, his first contest at that weight.

It was a disciplined performance from the Lanarkshire fighter – featured in Weir’s Week previously, not so much for his pugilistic skills but for his artistry. Body art this is, tattoos in other words.

I’m sure he still has space for another couple. However, while he outdid Katsidis on points, the Australian probably won when it came to ink, appearing to have a massive sundial etched on his back. Impressive.

No point in Burns trying for the same. Compared to Queensland, there isn’t much sun in Coatbridge…

Sunday
Saturday’s loss at home to Dunfermline Athletic is all too much for the Easter Road board, who bid farewell to manager Colin Calderwood after just 13 months in the job.

Calderwood had replaced John Hughes, who had replaced Mixu Paatelainen, who had replaced John Collins, who had replaced Tony Mowbray, who had replaced Bobby Williamson, who left in April 2004.

Six managers in seven-and-a-bit years. But by Tuesday, chairman Rod Petrie will claim to have received over 40 applications for the vacancy.

Two things stick out there. If none of the above lasted very long in Leith, why do Hibs think they’ll find better this time around?

And secondly, Petrie didn’t go into specifics about who had applied. I mean, 40 applications is different from 40 applicants. Could there be one man who has sent his CV in two-dozen times? Is anyone that desperate?

Apart from Rod Petrie…

Monday
And the SFA’s performance director Mark Wotte has plenty to say about the state of the Scottish game and where it might be headed.

“You have to set your goals high. How can Uruguay be world no.4 and Scotland not?

“It would be crazy to say Scotland will reach no.4 in the rankings, but you have to believe that you can change things.”

And he’s right. But in the past umpteen years we’ve heard a lot from Dutchmen and how they might change the world, or at least Scotland.

Back in 1995, Rinus Michels was part of Ernie Walker’s SFA “Think Tank” before it sprung a leak. Dick Advocaat was introduced by Rangers in 1998 and will be best remembered, not for unearthing fantastic talent, but for spending fortunes to deliver domestic success.

Now Wotte, the former Southampton manager, is planning great things for Scotland youth.

Fundamental to his performance strategy is the appointment of seven regional performance coaches to work out of appointed schools that will house the most talented kids in the region. He expects that, by 2020, this will have provided six or seven players to the senior squad.

I’m a Dutchmen if it does – but then we all might be…

Tuesday
Just a matter of days after the world found out about his illness, former world heavyweight champion Joe Frazier succumbs to liver cancer.

His passing brought back memories of the halcyon days of the early 1970s, when Frazier formed an historic triumvirate in the heavyweight division, alongside Mohammed Ali and George Foreman.

In many people’s eyes, Frazier was an imposter, merely keeping the world-title belts warm for Ali who had been out of commission, banned by the boxing authorities for refusing to go to Vietnam.

However in March 1971, Frazier hammered the unbeaten Ali – and so, instantaneously, became one of the most famous faces on the planet.

Not just in sport. Up there with the US president, Her Majesty the Queen, and Robert Redford. For that was the standing of the world heavyweight champion at that time.

I had a good chat on-air in the wee sma’ hours with talkSport’s Mike Graham. And what was apparent to both of us was that, despite the moving tributes written and broadcast, so many of those penning or airing those words weren’t around when Frazier and Ali were at their collective peak, and so really had no idea just how big they were, as celebrities, as personalities and as icons.

Maybe that also had something to do with the fact that there were only two versions of the title and there was only one champion – and that everyone had the opportunity to see them in action, albeit on the BBC the following night when most knew the outcome.

A far change from nowadays, where there are so many different divisions of the same weight division, with the action entirely divided up amongst various satellite and pay-for-view networks. Will the current title holders be mourned the same way. I very much doubt it.

Wednesday
A few hours after airing my views on boxing with Mike Graham, I’m back on the airwaves, this time on BBC Radio Scotland with Kaye Adams debating the Scotland national team being full of non-Scots.

Jordan Rhodes, son of former Dunfermline goalie Andy, is the latest Englishman to be “Jockified”, in his case under the “schooling” rule to join the likes of Matt Gilks, Phil Bardsley, James Morrison, Jamie Mackie and Craig Mackail-Smith as adopted Scots, qualifying under various criteria from parents, grandparents, schooling, a liking for Tunnock’s caramel wafers, or owning a West Highland terrier.

Me, I don’t have an issue with it. Scotland might as well play to the same rules and regulations as everyone else. Why handicap yourself by only playing “true-born” Scots, when some “true-born Scots” want to play for other countries, like the Republic of Ireland for instance?

What I do take exception to are those who have played under-21 football elsewhere, then use Scotland as a flag of convenience to become full internationalists. That, pulling on one jersey and then swapping it for another, I just cannot work out, other than believing such folk are just completely mercenary.

All of which reminded me of an evening watching Champions League highlights several years ago, during which I was bemoaning the lack of Scots participating.

“There’s one,” said the better half.

“Eh?”

“And another.”

Asked where exactly, she pointed out “them with the Scottish names” – Benni McCarthy from South Africa and Roy Maakay, a Dutchman. And, at their best, I would have happily taken either as honorary Scotsmen…

Thursday
Snooker supremo Barry Hearn gives an interesting interview to the Yorkshire Post where he admits to blackmailing players

Hearn has been under fire from the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan, with the former world champion critical of the tactics employed by Hearn to get leading players to play in lesser Players Tour Championship events.

“I made them ranking events to actually force the players into playing,” admitted Hearn.

“Ronnie is quite right that it is a form of blackmail, and I put my hands up and plead guilty. When I don’t do that blackmail, like at a recent invitational event in Brazil, nine out of the top 16 didn’t travel because they probably thought it was a long way to go.

“I should have made it a ranking event and that would have justified Ronnie’s case.”

If Barry is pleading guilty to blackmail, could this start a trend amongst other managers and promoters who might want to admit to charges of neglect, deception, embezzlement, gross mismanagement and the likes?

I’m sure there are several players who could offer up names and suspects…

Friday
The eleventh of the eleventh is a poignant day for many, when those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country are remembered.

This week, international associations and players from the Home Nations demanded the right to wear poppies on their shirts. After the intervention of various people, including Prince William, FIFA relented and will allow poppies to be worn on armbands.

FIFA had deemed that the poppy symbol contravened their law on political and/or religious messages on shirts.

However, the poppy is not political, and neither is it religious, although some would argue against both of those truths. It is simply a mark of respect.

FIFA just didn’t get that, and probably still don’t. But then given how that organisation is run, who runs it, and what they’ve managed to miss in recent times, we shouldn’t be surprised they didn’t understand something as simple as paying one’s respect to those who died for their county.

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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