Ruud began his career in the Dutch leagues. He started with Den Bosch at age 17 in 1993 and played for the club for four years scoring 17 goals. He then moved to Heerenveen where he scored 13 goals in just one season. At this point, Ruud was maturing physically and as a student of the game, and he transferred to Philips Sport Vereniging (PSV). He played three seasons at PSV Eindhoven, scoring 62 goals overall and building a name that would attract the attention of Manchester United.
A deal with Manchester was initially in place in 2000 but prevented by injuries that Ruud had sustained while the negotiations were ongoing. The teams eventually finalized the deal in 2001, and after clearing a medical, Ruud signed a five-year contract worth £19 million, which, at the time, was a British record. With that contract came a great deal of pressure, but Ruud’s first season was a rousing success. He scored 23 goals in 32 games and earned Player of the Year honors. During five seasons at Old Trafford, Ruud compiled 95 goals in 150 appearances and became the club’s all-time European goal scorer.
After the 2005-06 season, Van Nistelrooy left Manchester United and signed a three-year contract with Real Madrid at age 30. In his first season with Real, Ruud scored a hat trick in his second game, earned the league’s Pichichi honor with 25 goals scored and helped the team win the La Liga title. Ruud played three more seasons with Real, extending his initial contract by a year, and scored 46 goals overall.
Ruud then played a season with Hamburger SV in 2010-11, scoring 12 goals, and with Málaga in 2011-12, scoring four goals. After the 2011-12 season, with age and injuries catching up with him, Ruud announced retirement. With football behind him, Van Nistelrooy now focuses on his children, daughter Moa Annette and son Liam, and his charity organization, SOS Children’s Villages.
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