Ruud van Nistelrooy on how Alex Ferguson sabotaged his golden boot bid
"You're not challenging for the golden boot, we didn't win the league, son..."
Ruud van Nistelrooy has shared the story of how Sir Alex Ferguson deliberately ended his pursuit of a golden boot during his first season as a Manchester United player to teach the striker a lesson.
Having joined United from PSV Eindhoven in 2001, the striker eventually missed out on being the top scorer in England's top flight by a single goal in the 2001/2002 season with Thierry Henry pipping him to the prize.
The pair were two of the most prolific goal-scorers in the country during the early 2000s and, appearing on Rio Ferdinand's Vibe with Five show, Van Nistelrooy was asked about the rivalry he had with the Frenchman.
"In the press it started later than it did for me," Van Nistelrooy explains. "I admired him from day one. I studied his game, I knew how good he was at the time and was like 'Wow, I want to keep with him. I need to get my levels there'.
"I came from PSV and Thierry was doing stuff in the Premiership that was hard."
Arsenal had already won the league by the time United hosted Charlton Athletic in their final game of the campaign, but Van Nistelrooy saw it as an opportunity to claim the top scorer award for himself. His hopes were dashed, however, by his manager, with Ferguson intentionally leaving him out of the game.
"The first year I was challenging," he recalls. "But the gaffer left me out in the last game of the season.
"He said: 'You're not challenging for the golden boot, we didn't win the league, son. You're out.'
"He left me in the stands, man. Not even on the bench. Not even a hope for coming on."
Asked by Ferdinand how he dealt with that, Van Nistelrooy later added: "He made me sharp in that moment like you cannot believe... We didn't win the league, we'd got knocked in the semi-finals of the Champions League by Leverkusen. There were no trophies that year.
"So that message was: 'Your goals, fine, they helped us to a certain point but you need to connect it with titles'. That was the message, and it was clipped and clear in my head when he left me on the stand. I was already starting the new season."
Ferguson's ruthless decision paid off. United won the league title back from Arsenal the following season, with Van Nistelrooy also claiming the golden boot.
The full interview with Van Nistelrooy can be viewed below, with the story mentioned above kicking in around the 22-minute mark.