By Jonathan Caswell
Ruud van Nistelrooij has become a Manchester United FC legend in no time at all and his reputation as a striker supreme now stretches around the world.
Last time out in the UEFA Champions League the Flying Dutchman equalled Denis Law's European goalscoring record for the club and has not let up in the English Premiership since. It is this ability to score consistently, big match or small, which won him a place in uefa.com Users' Team of 2003.
Van Nistelrooij is delighted to be there, telling uefa.com: "It's an incredible eleven. You feel like going out and playing in a team like that because all the players are so good. It's great that so many votes come in on uefa.com and that so many people in Europe love football and it is great to be appreciated for what you are doing."
Certainly, Van Nistelrooij is loving his football at the moment. He said: "Football brings a smile to your face because it is a fantastic game and once you are on the pitch it's just eleven against eleven with a great atmosphere and it's hard not to enjoy."
The 27-year-old, who joined United from PSV Eindhoven in July 2001, was joined by Arsenal FC's Thierry Henry in the Team of 2003. Even if it is only an imaginary team, the prospect of playing alongside Frenchman is one that appeals. "Henry is a great player," said Van Nistelrooij. "I think we could do well together. He has everything a striker needs to have and he proves that week in week out here in England and for France."
The Dutchman is the first United player to feature in our team of the year since David Beckham was selected in 2001. Beckham, now with Real Madrid CF, is in the 2003 team too. Van Nistlerooij reckons the England captain is worth his place in the side, and he has not been forgotten at Old Trafford either.
He said: "I think he's missed here as a player and a person and from what I see of him in Spain he does really well and it's a credit to him. With the language barrier, it's not easy to move to Spain and he's done that very well and he's putting in great performances as well."
The Dutch striker will be meeting up with some other Team of 2003 cohorts as United take on FC Porto in the UEFA Champions League next week. Defender Paulo Ferreira and coach José Mourinho were both voted into the team on the back of Porto's UEFA Cup triumph and domestic double last season.
As he prepares to come up against the Porto defence, Van Nistelrooij is certainly taking Ferreira seriously. "Ferreira is in the uefa.com team which says enough," he said. "
They are very strong at home as they showed against Real Madrid in the group stages.
"Winning the UEFA Cup last year will have lifted everybody at the club and it will be a huge task over the two games. No game is easy at this level. We will need a good result over there but it will be hard."
However, having made goalscoring at the highest level look easy for United, it is Porto who may have the hardest task on Wednesday in stopping Van Nistelrooij.
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