Ruud van Nistelrooy says that life after Manchester United is never the same and has urged Dimitar Berbatov to stick with the club. The Dutch striker, now at German club Hamburg, scored 150 goals in 219 games for United in five seasons before departing for Real Madrid in a £12 million deal during the summer of 2006.
The 33-year-old Dutch striker scored 46 goals in 68 games during four years at the Bernabeu before joining Hamburg in January. It’s a downward path familiar to many former United players jettisoned by Sir Alex Ferguson over the years.
“I had a fantastic time at United. I will remember five unbelievable years, from 25 to 30,” said van Nistelrooy.
“But I was lucky. Where can you go after United? Probably there’s only Madrid. Any other thing isn’t the same. And now I know what it is.
“On Tuesday I was watching the Champions League and today I’m preparing for a Europa League semi-final. That’s it, it doesn’t come back. I’m lucky to be in the Europa League and am obviously enjoying that moment, but playing for those kind of clubs is a one-off for a player.”
van Nistelrooy has suffered a disappointing spell at Hamburg after leaving Real Madrid in January, scoring just three Bundesliga goals from a deeper position than he played at Madrid and United.
The club lies just seventh in the Bundesliga and coach Bruno Labbadia is certain to face the sack when the season ends, with former United coach Steve McClaren tipped to take the reins at the HSH Nordbank Arena.
van Nistelrooy, who played in Hamburg’s scoreless draw with Fulham in the Europa League semi-final on Thursday, is happy just to play again after 18 months of knee problems threatened to end his career prematurely.
It’s a huge challenge for the player, who will not travel with the Dutch national squad for this summer’s World Cup in South Africa following his retirement after Euro 2008.
But the striker’s union holds strong and van Nistelrooy, who reportedly fell out with Ferguson after the Scot left him on the bench for the 2005 Carling Cup final, has sympathy for United’s £30 million striker Berbatov.
Media reports suggest that the Bulgarian record goalscorer may leave the club this summer after a disappointing campaign, with AC Milan and Bayern Munich ready to bid for the former-Tottenham Hotspur player.
“I can empathise with his situation. He cost £30m, there were big expectations and they haven’t been met so far,” added van Nistelrooy.
“He isn’t playing regularly – he plays but not always – so, of course, that’s a disappointment because expectations are sky high.
“But I think that, when he has the support of the manager and the lads, that he should just carry on and turn it around. I don’t think he should leave yet. This is his second year so I think that he should give it another year at least.”
Indeed, few players who leave United ever go on to achieve greater things with their new clubs. David Beckham’s spell at Real Madrid, for example, coincided with a relatively barren trophy collection for Los Merengues.
“I wouldn’t leave United that easily. I know what it’s like when you’ve left – when it’s gone it doesn’t come back anymore,” adds van Nistelrooy.