Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy cuts a much happier figure these days than he did at the 2006 World Cup finals and with him soon to turn 32 he realises that Euro 2008 may well be his last appearance on a major international stage.
The Real Madrid sharpshooter was totally out of sorts at the World Cup as he was out in the cold at Manchester United and was eventually dropped to the bench for the ill-tempered second round match with Portugal – if looks could kill he would have disposed of coach Marco van Basten.
When he was told that van Basten could not guarantee him being an automatic pick that was that for the former PSV Eindhoven star, who closed down his international career – a situation which stayed like that for a year.
However, unlike midfielders Marc van Bommel and latterly Clarence Seedorf he has made his peace with van Basten, though, he admits it doesn't mean they will be going out to dinner a deux in the forseeable future.
“This conflict is forgotten,” van Nistelrooy told AFP.
“Our relationship, though, is strictly professional.
“We both share the same goal and vision: to do everything possible to win Euro 2008.
“It is not necessary to go to a restaurant together in order to do one's job.”
However, it took some persuading van Basten to welcome him back, but for the senior players there was no doubt what the outcome should be.
“We could not do without such a goalscorer for long,” explained goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, who mediated between the two.
What has really transformed van Nistelrooy – who had a massive falling out with United boss Sir Alex Ferguson which led to him even being banned from attending let alone play in Roy Keane's testimonial – has been his move to Real Madrid where he rediscovered his verve and scoring boots.
“I am better in my shoes these days, than I was two years ago,” said van Nistelrooy, variously known as 'Van Gol' or 'Van the Man' a title normally reserved for legendary Irish singer Van Morrison.
“I am a lot calmer. I was coming out of a difficult time at Manchester United and it had drained me of my confidence. But now, everything has fallen back into place: I've rediscovered my sharpness,” added van Nistelrooy, who in his first season at Real Madrid was anointed 'Pichichi' or leading scorer in the Spanish league with 25 goals.
Van Nistelrooy claims he is satisfied with the preparations for the Euro tournament and he can see a real chance of emulating their compatriots from 1988 – which was spearheaded by van Basten – and be crowned European champions.
“Our warm-up matches really reassured me,” he said.
“Of course we lacked consistency but in terms of attacking tactics we are capable of putting some great moves together,” added van Nistelrooy, who has scored 31 goals in 61 matches.
For van Nistelrooy it is almost as if the 1988 tournament was yesterday.
“I was 12. My father took me to the match against Ireland in Gelsenkirchen.
“It was an unforgettable experience. And on the day of the final (against the then Soviet Union) there was an incredible wave of euphoria in the country.
“Twenty years have gone by and that is a long time. The time has come for another success. Our supporters deserve that.”
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