Tue. Nov 24th, 2020

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Paul Scholes is right to compare Marcus Rashford’s finishing with Ruud van Nistelrooy

7 min read

Paul Scholes has a point. When you watch Marcus Rashford scoring for Manchester United, there are definitely shades of Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Look at the first of his three against RB Leipzig on Wednesday night. The burst of acceleration to leave the defenders for dead, the little nudge of the ball to outfox the goalkeeper then the opening up of the body to find the bottom corner. 

Assured, clinical, absolutely no doubt as to where the ball is going to end up.

The finish brought to mind Van Nistelrooy scoring the second goal of one of his own United hat-tricks, also at the Stretford End, against Fulham in March 2003.

Marcus Rashford nets the first of his hat-trick in Manchester United's 5-0 win over RB Leipzig

Marcus Rashford nets the first of his hat-trick in Manchester United’s 5-0 win over RB Leipzig

Van Nistelrooy scored with a similar finish when he netted three against Fulham in 2003

Van Nistelrooy scored with a similar finish when he netted three against Fulham in 2003

Van Nistelrooy had also run from his own half, beating five defenders before giving keeper Maik Taylor the eyes, suddenly switching feet and rolling the ball effortlessly home.

Rashford had the run of the Leipzig half but the finish was equally ruthless when through on goal.

Scholes was in United’s midfield that day and admired the Dutchman’s goal from down the field. Perhaps he remembered it in the BT Sport studio after watching Rashford’s heroics. 

‘That was like Van Nistelrooy,’ he said. ‘You see him going through and you know he’s going to smash the ball into the corner.

‘You come to expect this from him. I liked his ruthlessness tonight, you felt every time he went through he was not giving the keeper a chance.

‘You’re looking at 25 goals [a season] from him if he keeps that attitude.’

Van Nistelrooy scored a hat-trick in that Fulham game, three of his 150 goals for Man United

Van Nistelrooy scored a hat-trick in that Fulham game, three of his 150 goals for Man United

His former United team-mate Paul Scholes spoke of Van Nistelrooy on Wednesday night

His former United team-mate Paul Scholes spoke of Van Nistelrooy on Wednesday night

Rashford at 22 

  • 74 goals in 223 appearances for Manchester United having made his debut as a 17-year-old in 2016
  • Just enjoyed his best season so far with 22 goals in 44 games
  • Established England international with 11 goals in 40 appearances 
  • Has won FA Cup, EFL Cup and UEFA Europa League 
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Van Nistelrooy at 22 

  • Moved from Heerenveen to PSV Eindhoven for £4.2m, at the time a record transfer fee between two Dutch clubs
  • Had spent three seasons in Dutch second tier with Den Bosch before breakthrough season with Heerenveen 
  • Won first of 70 Holland caps 
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Remind you of anyone? But Rashford, at 22, or 23 this Saturday, is some distance ahead in his career trajectory than Van Nistelrooy was at the same age. 

The Dutch striker was also yet to suffer the crippling knee injury that forced a total rethink of his art of scoring goals.

Remarkably, that was Rashford’s first United hat-trick but the England international has already plundered 74 goals for the club in 223 appearances since an injury to Anthony Martial in the warm-up forced a fresh-faced 17-year-old into Louis van Gaal’s team for a Europa League tie with Midtjylland in 2016.

Rashford scored twice that night, scored twice against Arsenal three days later and has gone from strength to strength ever since.

Rashford burst onto the scene as a fresh-faced 17-year-old against Midtjylland in 2016

Rashford burst onto the scene as a fresh-faced 17-year-old against Midtjylland in 2016

Van Nistelrooy pictured during his single season with Heerenveen before signing for PSV

Van Nistelrooy pictured during his single season with Heerenveen before signing for PSV

He is well on course to top Wayne Rooney’s scoring record of 253 United goals and with the prime of his career ahead, there’s every chance Rashford will become a truly world class footballer.

Rashford isn’t yet scoring at the rate that delivers 25 goals in a season. The 2019-20 campaign was his best yet, with 22 goals, but prior to that he’d not been higher than 13.

But the fact he has seven in nine games to far this season speaks of a striker getting deadlier by the game. The power of his finishes on Wednesday night against a shell-shocked Leipzig was notable, as if leaving nothing to chance.

That’s certainly from the Van Nistelrooy school of really putting your foot through the ball when shooting. Rashford is much quicker than Van Nistelrooy ever was but the Dutchman was certainly difficult to stop in full flow.

Both are also very good penalty takers – Van Nistelrooy scored 51 of the 63 penalties he took during his career. So far in his, Rashford has scored 13 and missed two.

Rashford, like Van Nistelrooy, is an accomplished penalty taker, even in high-pressure games

Rashford, like Van Nistelrooy, is an accomplished penalty taker, even in high-pressure games

The Dutch striker also had an enviable penalty record, netting 51 of his 63 spot kicks

The Dutch striker also had an enviable penalty record, netting 51 of his 63 spot kicks 

But while Rashford at 22 has a proven track record of scoring at the highest level, Van Nistelrooy at the same age was just getting his big break.

It was at that age he moved from Heerenveen to PSV Eindhoven for what was then a record transfer fee between two Dutch clubs of £4.2million.

It followed an impressive first season in the Eredivisie, the Dutch top flight, in which he scored 13 times, enough to convince PSV of his talent.

Before that single season with Heerenveen, Van Nistelrooy, who was actually a midfielder during his younger years, had been playing in the Dutch second tier with Den Bosch and scoring at a modest rate.

But it was at 22, during his first season at PSV, that we saw the first glimpse of Van Nistelrooy as the deadly striker we came to know.

It was at PSV Eindhoven that Van Nistelrooy really became a top class, predatory striker

It was at PSV Eindhoven that Van Nistelrooy really became a top class, predatory striker

Van Nistelrooy with the Silver Boot for being Europe's second highest goalscorer during the 1999-2000 season - behind Sunderland's Kevin Phillips

Van Nistelrooy with the Silver Boot for being Europe’s second highest goalscorer during the 1999-2000 season – behind Sunderland’s Kevin Phillips

Though PSV finished only third in the Dutch league, they were the highest scorers by some distance and Van Nistelrooy scored 31 goals in the league and 41 in all competitions to be named Dutch Player of the Year.

Ensuring he was no one-season wonder, his 29 goals in 1999-2000 powered PSV to the league title and drew attention from far and wide.

In a 2001 interview, United manager Sir Alex Ferguson revealed his son Darren, who was having a trial with Heerenveen at the time, alerted him to Van Nistelrooy’s brilliance.

Acting swiftly on the tip-off, Ferguson sent scouts over to watch PSV’s next game and the striker was signed just a day later.

But he didn’t move to Manchester right away. There is video footage of the moment when Van Nistelrooy, landing hard after heading the ball in training, falls to the turf with an anguished scream and starts holding his knee.

Ironically, PSV had arranged for his training exercises to be filmed to prove he didn’t have knee ligament problems to facilitate the transfer.

WARNING – Distressing content in video 

Van Nistelrooy with Sir Alex Ferguson after finally making it to Man United in 2001

Van Nistelrooy with Sir Alex Ferguson after finally making it to Man United in 2001

It ultimately delayed his £18.5m move to United by 12 months. Having suffered a rupture to his anterior cruciate knee ligaments, Van Nistelrooy went to the United States for reconstructive surgery.

He came back a different – and deadlier – striker. ‘My body changed completely. It’s a different posture,’ Van Nistelrooy said in 2003.

‘That helped me a lot if I look back. I became stronger and faster, I did a lot of speed work.’

It certainly helps explain the remarkable return of 150 goals in 219 games for United over the course of five seasons at Old Trafford.

Ferguson described him as a ‘great assassin’ inside the penalty box and just one of his 95 Premier League goals came from outside it.

Losing a year of his career also made Van Nistelrooy incredibly selfish on the field, a necessary quality for any self-respecting striker and attested to by goal returns of 36, 44, 30, 16 and 24 in his Old Trafford years before he was sold to Real Madrid in 2006.

Van Nistelrooy scored goals in prolific quantities during his five season with Man United

Van Nistelrooy scored goals in prolific quantities during his five season with Man United

Van Nistelrooy and Cristiano Ronaldo lift the FA Cup after United's 2004 victory over Millwall

Van Nistelrooy and Cristiano Ronaldo lift the FA Cup after United’s 2004 victory over Millwall 

He played at United during a lean period, compared to the great Ferguson teams that came before and after him, winning just one Premier League title, one FA Cup and one League Cup.

Van Nistelrooy was the Premier League leading scorer in 2002-03 but, as Scholes has recalled before, he came off second best in his duel for striker supremacy with Arsenal’s Thierry Henry.

‘Whenever he did or didn’t score, the first thing he would do when we got on the team bus was see if Henry had scored,’ Scholes said.

‘If Henry had scored he wouldn’t talk to anybody for the full trip home because he was so engrossed in being the leading goalscorer.’

Van Nistelrooy is still regarded as one of the finest strikers Old Trafford has ever seen and what is hugely encouraging for United fans is that Rashford is ahead of where he was at the age of 22. And getting better and better.

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