went to my local stadium to practice
because they had big goals. The groundsman would come
hunting for me. I’d have to climb back over the fence
and run off.
Do you feel incomplete if you don’t score?
Its not enough just to score. Being a complete striker
is a big goal. OK, some things don’t get as much
recognition as a goal, but they bring me satisfaction.
That said, if I play well but don’t score, there’s
How do you cope with missing a chance?
Its not a problem while the game is still on. I think, “
I’ll score the next one.” But when the referee blows and
I haven’t scored, then I go back to the chance and think
and think. It can drive me crazy. I go home and watch
the game on telly and analyze things until I find out
why I missed. Then, I’m ok.
You said that if you miss a penalty, you challenge
yourself to score in open play…
I do. The funny thing is that I’ve done it 4 times. Even
when I missed against arsenal [in the 90th minute of a
0-0 draw at Old Trafford in September 2003], I
challenged myself. I had one minuet I had to score…but
there wasn’t time. After the game I went I home I felt
so bad. I kept replying the penalty in my head and then
it struck me that , even with only a minute left, I was
ready to hunt for the next opportunity. That made me
A striker puts himself on the line like no other player
does, with the possible exception of goalkeepers. You
once said that strikers were as crazy as goalkeepers. Is
that what you meant?
Its their single mindedness I recognize. Its funny –
every position has certain characteristics. You can walk
on to a training ground and pick out people by their
personality; he must be a fullback, he must be a
Is being a striker lonely?
I am a social person, but sometimes I just have to get
away. That’s the strikers mentality. I don’t worry:
“what will the lads think?” I am confident about being
who I am.
When did you first play as striker?
Strangely, I was a central midfielder until I was 19, I
had to join the attack and come back and defend. I can’t
believe that now! In my second year in the first team of
FC Den Bosch, the coach said: “lets put you up front and
teach you to play with your back to goal,” I’d always
scored from midfield, so they thought that if I didn’t
have to do all the other running, I might score more.
You say you had a lot to learn, but what strikers
tools did you already possess?
I have a light touch. When I get the ball I can touch it
into space first time. This gives me a moment to do my
next thing. Also, I’ve always had good movement. When I
was 15, my coaches made me play in the under 18’s. it
means I had to cope against much bigger competition.
There is only one way to do that: use your head.
Teammates at Den Bosch say you missed because you
were so eager.
Yeah, I wanted to score beautiful goals, a chip or
something special.. often, it dint work and then I’d try
something even better…I was stubborn.
So what happened?
When I was at Heerenveen, Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit
came to watch training and I wanted to impress them. I
tried a chip that hit the crossbar, and it felt good
because eit looked nice. But they said: “ if you want
trophies, the ball needs to be in the net. It doesn’t
matter how…” that was the first time I realized what you
need to be a striker. So I stopped trying to be
beautiful and thought only of being good. Gullit and
Rijkaard said there’s only one thing that counts: the
goal that you score. If you play well but don’t score.
Nothing will be written about you.
Foppe de Haan was also important. He says he taught
you to be “like a lion waiting in the sun.”
Ha. I know what he meant. I used to try to do to much.
Sometimes, a striker has to step out of the game, get on
the shoulder of the defender so they don’t know hes
How do you lose a defender?
Its about being clever. You can move between the center
back and the full back, or between the center backs, so
they don’t know who’s marking you. Or you drop towards
the midfield and they decide whether to let you go ro
You’ve always been clever about wandering offside and
then coming back just at the right time…
When you move towards the goal and the defenders see you
behind them, they get uncomfortable and come back. You
can gain 20 extra yards to to play in.
When you receive the ball, is the technique different in
the box than in other areas?
Yes, because your second might be a shot. Wherever I am
I try to touch the ball a maximum of 2 or 3 times.
You don’t get caught on your heels often.
No. if you do, its 50-50 with the defender. Some players
are very good at it. Ive got to be moving when I receive
You seem to side-foot most of your shots…
My shot is more accurate with some bend on it. So when I
try to finish. I ben the round the goalkeeper or whip it
into the other corner of the goal at the last minute.
How do you practice finishing? Ian rush used to work on
putting the ball…
…into the side of the net inside the goal! When I shot
across the goalkeeper, I always aim for the side net.
That is sort of the ultimate – when the ball bends into
the side net. Perfect. But, in training I practice other
finishes, so that if I face a situation in a game. I’m
not like: “Ooh, what’ll I do?” my biggest need apart,
from fitness, is to maintain my feel of the ball. Before
training I’m always doing little touches. Keeping the
ball up. Every day you want to do a million touches, as
many as you can do, so your feeling for the ball is rock
Sports psychologists think footballers develop
greater peripheral vision. Does that help?
You take a picture, seeing, but also reacting to what
you see. But a picture only captures one moment and the
game doesn’t stay like that, so you are totally alert.
If the picture changes, there’s another decision.
What goes through your mind when you are facing a
How I’m going to score. What’s the angle? Where’s the
keeper? At the last moment, I decide.
You’ve said you spend the whole game thinking, but in
that moment, do you have to you empty your mind?
Yeah. At your best, you’re so in the moment, nothing
else is there. Confidence is feeling comfortable enough
at the vital moment to switch everything off. You often
get into trouble when you let thoughts creep in.
After joining Manchester United you scored penalty
after penalty. Then you missed three in a row, including
the notorious one against Arsenal. Why?
Its in the mind. You miss one and then you worry about
the next one. In my bad run, I told myself: “bloody
hell, it must go in once.” As soon as one did, things
went back to how they did before.
Did you feel a sense of relief after scoring?
Oh yeah. When I see my celebration, I’m like, “is that
me?” its like ive won the world cup and the Olympics as
well! But that’s when you see what it means to me.
Would it be fair to say that you can be ruthless?
It’s a big part of being a striker, killer instinct.
When I look back at the important moments of my life, I
see that they are when I fought my way through a
Where does this hard edge come from?
My mums dad. He was a footballer, too. And he had this
temper. When I’m home, the old men in the local café say
they see him when they see me.
It’s said that you were to angry as a youth.
I was. I did silly things, but I think you can only
learn by falling flat on your face and that’s what
happened to me. I don’t want to get rid of that part of
my personality. It has to be directed properly, but I
need it. I know I can go to far sometimes when I’m
trying to win.
Yeah, but what’s to far? If its within the rules, I
think you can go as far as you like.
That’s quite a simple form of motivation…..
Every game, you want to succeed. That’s the combination
that makes a fire in me. The records I’ve broken are
nice, but they are only moments in my career. My only
target is to get the maximum from myself in every game.
Does your killer instinct come out in any other area of
No, not even in a traffic jam. Ive never had a fight or
anything like that. But in a game you don’t have time.
Then I become that other person.
HOW TO SCORE GOALS by Ruud van
Johannes Martinus van Nistelrooij, alias Ruud van
Nistelrooy, has almost total recall of every goal he has
ever scored. He says of one strike he made as a
youngster in Holland, when he beat the keeper with a
60-yard-drive: “I remember the ground with all the
people celebrating and the loudspeaker saying. “Goal –
Ruud van Nistelrooy!” Then it went quiet and I could
hear people talking in the stands about what I’d just
done. It was unreal. I just hit it…” he adds, his eyes
lighting up as he relives the kill.
How does it feel when you score?
It’s the ultimate. When the ball hits the net, its wow!
Sometimes I celebrate a goal in training because its so
nice. Some strikers say scoring is like a drug, you get
Does anything else compare?
When something nice happens involving your family, you
get a rush of happiness, buts a different kind of
happiness. That’s why I can tell you every goal I’ve
scored. Its like when you hare a song and think: “hey
that was when I was with my mates in Spain when I was
17.” You remember a goal because the feeling sticks in
Even as a boy, scoring was something that you
I used to hate playing without nets because the
experience was incomplete. You need to see the ball hit the
back of the net and hear the sound it makes. When I was
young, I always