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Alex Ferguson’s furious reaction after Ruud van Nistelrooy swapped shirts with a Man City player

Ruud van Nistelrooy

The souring of the relationship between Alex Ferguson and Ruud van Nistelrooy at Manchester United is well documented.

While Ruud van Nistelrooy was one of Alex Ferguson’s most dependable goalscorers, the Dutchman gave Fergie his fair share of headaches as well.

Van Nistelrooy found himself the subject of many instances of Ferguson’s infamous hairdryer treatment, with one particular incident against Manchester City forcing the legendary manager to change the team’s policy on swapping shirts after matches.

Ruud van Nistelrooy

After United fell to a 3-1 defeat to City in November 2002, Ferguson was incensed to see Van Nistelrooy return to the Maine Road dressing room without his United top but with the sky blue jersey of their rivals.

Former United right-back Gary Neville discussed the incident on the Quickly Kevin, Will He Score? podcast.

“I always remember, after that game Ruud van Nistelrooy had swapped shirts with a City player,” Neville said. “The City player had come up to him and swapped shirts.

Ruud van Nistelrooy

“He [Ferguson] said, ‘You do not give away one of those shirts. They’re my shirts. They’re this club’s shirts, they’re not your shirts. You’re just wearing them temporarily. That’s not your possession to give away.’

“He stopped us swapping shirts in domestic games.

“I think he said after that game, ‘I should let the fans in here. I should let the fans come in here and speak to you.'”

Van Nistelrooy remained at United for another four years and finished his career with the Red Devils with an impressive record of 150 goals in 219 appearances.

During his final six months with United, however, Van Nistelrooy became increasingly disruptive for Ferguson and it became clear that there was no way back after the Carling Cup final in 2006, when the forward insulted Ferguson for his choice of substitutions against Wigan.

Van Nistelrooy began clashing with teammates in training and in July 2006, he left for Real Madrid.

Ruud van Nistelrooy

Four years after the unceremonious parting, Van Nistelrooy reached out to apologise to Ferguson for how his time at the club came to an end.

Recalling an unexpected text from Van Nistelrooy, Ferguson said: “My phone beeped with a text message. ‘I don’t know whether you remember me,’ it started, ‘but I need to call you.’

“I had no idea what it might be. But I texted him back: OK. So he rang. First, the small talk. Had some injuries, fit now, not getting a game, blah blah. Then he came out with it. ‘I want to apologise for my behaviour in my last year at United.’

“Ruud offered no explanation. Perhaps I should have taken that chance to say, ‘Why did it go that way?’”


(Originally published on November 11, 2020).

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