It would be easy to label a comparison of Diego Tristán and Ruud van Nistelrooij as a meeting of artist and artisan ahead of tonight's UEFA Champions League quarter-final second leg match between Manchester United FC and RC Deportivo La Coruña.
Convenient though it may be to pigeon-hole them in such a way it would be wholly misleading. Similarly, some people would have it that the Spaniard is a scorer of great goals rather than a great goalscorer and that the contrary is the case with the Dutchman. The truth, as is often the way, lies somewhere between the two.
Deportivo's Tristán is certainly a prolific goalscorer, as we were reminded only last weekend when he scored a hat-trick inside 12 minutes against his former club RCD Mallorca. In fact, he has averaged a goal every other game in the Primera División which is prolific by any standards. And while Van Nistelrooij has broken goalscoring records in his first season at United, he has also scored some spectacular goals; tap-ins they were not. One thing most people would agree on about these two players is that they are both great forwards that any manager would be proud to have in his side. No wonder then that these kindred spirits swapped shirts after the sides met at Old Trafford earlier this season.
When Tristán committed that late challenge on David Beckham at the Riazor last week, Sir Alex Ferguson, the United manager, was quick to preface his criticism of the tackle with the observation that he was surprised because the Spaniard, to his way of thinking, was a "pure" footballer, the inference being that that kind of behaviour was best left to the cloggers in the game.
Tristán is certainly stylish. His rather awkward gait belies a rare finesse for someone whose job is, purely and simply, to stick the ball in the net. His two goals in the 3-2 win away to United in the first group stage of the Champions League this season marked him out as a special talent. And by scoring as well against other teams, like Real Madrid CF, FC Barcelona, Arsenal FC and Juventus FC, he has proved he is also a big-match player.
Eye for goal
Van Nistelrooij arrived at Old Trafford with a phenomenal goalscoring reputation, but some doubted whether he would find goals quite as easy to come by in the competitive and physical environment of the FA Premiership as he had in the Eredivisie with PSV Eindhoven. It took him no time at all to prove that he could. He has an extraordinary eye for goal and a great capacity for improvisation, as he showed in the first leg of United's quarter-final at the Riazor when he needed a quick change of feet to finish off Mikael Silvestre's cross for the second goal. It ended his longest run without a goal for United - three games.
His athleticism and natural strength make up for what he may lack in pace. Also, unlike many goalscorers, he is not the selfish type. Ferguson had to force him to sit out a game against Leeds United AFC recently because he felt he needed the rest. "I accepted the manager’s decision and it was the right one," said Van Nistelrooij. "For me, goals are secondary. I want to win medals most of all. Football is not an individual sport. If I can score goals and help United win it is the ideal situation."
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