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Ruud to relish Hamburg move

It was not as emotional as the farewell of Marco van Basten in the San Siro in 1995, when the camera caught trainer Fabio Capello in tears. Van Basten had spent two years in Milan without playing a game due to chronic ankle problems and when reality sunk in and he had waved goodbye to all Milanisti, their director Adriano Galliano declared: "Football has lost its Leonardo da Vinci".

Fifteen years later, the Bernabeu Stadium rose as one when Ruud van Nistelrooy walked on the pitch before Real's game against Malaga. Although he had been restricted by injury for more than a year, Ruud struck a chord with the club and its fans, prompting them to organise a farewell reception the day after he signed for Hamburg.

No one will ever compare him to Leonardo da Vinci, but he is one of the top five strikers of the last decade. Wherever he went, he scored. And a lot. To see this amiable fellow depart from the biggest club in the world due to injuries left the Madrid faithful with a sorrowful heart.

No one asked him to go. Ruud could have stayed to fight for a place in the starting line-up, but all his recent efforts had failed. Having recovered from his knee injury earlier in the season he made it to the bench and made two substitute appearances, but each time suffered a setback. At 33, recuperating is not the same process as it was ten years ago. And then there was the not-so-little matter of outplaying the likes of Gonzalo Higuain, Karim Benzema and Raul to earn a place in the starting XI.

His chances were minimal. Some in his position would have sat out the next 18 months in the Castillian sunshine, occasionally helping the team out as a back-up striker and just concentrating on being a legendary player on the training pitch in Madrid. Not Ruud. He just wants to play games at any appropriate level, especially when there is a World Cup coming up this summer.

The striker is determined to go to South Africa, with his pedigree on the biggest football stage surprisingly unimpressive so far. A collective Dutch failure to qualify for the 2002 World Cup was a major disappointment for him. It made him as old as 30 when he played his first World Cup game in Leipzig against Serbia and Montenegro in 2006. Although the Dutch won 1-0, Van Nistelrooy was substituted for Dirk Kuyt after failing to really get into the game. He scored in the next match against Ivory Coast, but again did not receive the service he was used to in Manchester at the time and mostly had to play with his back to goal. Marco van Basten's tactics just didn't suit him.

In the third game against Argentina he hardly touched the ball and his substitution within the hour was the last we would see of him in Germany. When the team crashed out in the second round against Portugal in a disgraceful encounter that saw four red cards, Ruud stayed on the bench.

This lack of World Cup glory may have prompted him to analyse his chances of playing on the biggest stage once more. Until recently it looked a distant dream. Not only was he not playing, but he had also retired from international football after Euro 2008. "I will only call national coach Bert van Marwijk when I feel so good that I believe to be of added value to the team," he said last weekend. "Nobody should think that I will go along just to be there."

His second move was to leave Real to take a step back, putting himself on the market in January. After turning down West Ham, he could have made a worse decision than heading to the north German city with its Dutch contingent. Hamburg's €9 million striker Marcus Berg has not managed to replicate his form with FC Groningen and at the European Under-21 Championship, where he scored an impressive seven goals in four games, so the move makes sense for the club as well.

Their lack of scoring prowess has seen them lose some unexpected games this season - against Borussia Monchengladbach (3-2) and VfL Bochum (1-0) at home. Those dropped points are the difference between being second in the league - ahead of Bayern Munich - and their current position of fifth. If fit, Ruud might still have a major influence on the outcome of the Bundesliga, even this year. But as Germany legend Gunter Netzer said: "A fit Ruud van Nistelrooy would never come to Hamburg."

However, even if he does not play a minute in the next 18 months, HSV will make enough money in marketing and merchandising with his name and exposure to make his signing worthwhile. The pressure on him in Hamburg will be good natured, while the presence of star man Eljero Elia may even help him to get to South Africa. If the two of them make a successful connection on the pitch, then it would be an interesting ready-made pairing for the Dutch line-up.

It is unknown when Van Nistelrooy will make his Bundesliga debut, but some say it will not be within the next two or three weeks. It could well be in the third round of the Europa League against a certain PSV Eindhoven and a club where he promised to end his career.


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