Q&A: Ruud van Nistelrooy on Hamburg, Madrid and the Premier League
He was among the most sought after commodities in the January transfer window and it was the increasingly attractive lure of playing in Germany's Bundesliga that persuaded Ruud van Nistelrooy to take his leave from Real Madrid.
Soccernet's Nick Bidwell caught up with the former Manchester United hit-man as he settles into his new home in Hamburg.
Why did you decide to sign for Hamburg?
The more I thought about joining Hamburg, the more the move appealed to me because I wanted to experience playing in the Bundesliga. Along with England and Spain, this is one of the top championships in Europe. When I was a kid I used to watch German games on the TV every week, so you could say there's always been an attraction.
Hamburg are a club with a great tradition, they have been European champions, have a strong side at the moment and, like me, they are very ambitious. I also like the fact that they are modest and I'm not sure they were expecting me to say yes to them. They are a top club in every sense and I'm more than proud to play for them.
Hamburg have a reputation for employing Dutch coaches. Did that attract you to the club?
There are great links between this club and Dutch football and many football people in Holland see the German Bundesliga as a smart career move for any player. Before signing here, I spoke to lots of guys from back home about Hamburg. Whether it was current players like Joris Mathijsen or ex-players such as Rafael van der Vaart, Nigel De Jong or Khalid Boulahrouz. Everyone only had good things to say about the club and the city and they advised me to jump on board in a hurry.
Did you not fancy a return to the Premier League?
Some English sides showed an interest in me and it made me stop and think. I love the cut and thrust and the atmosphere of English football and, after five unbelievable years at Old Trafford, I would be crazy not to be tempted by the thought of going back there. In the end, nothing materialised and this is life. It's a cautious transfer market at the moment - the recession has seen to that. Ultimately, what Hamburg offered me as a sportsman was the most solid and persuasive.
Do you still follow Premier League football?
Of course. I watch the game on the television and it is clear that Chelsea and Manchester United will battle for the title this season. They both have teams filled with guys with a winning mentality, but I fancy my old club to come out on top again. United do get stronger as a season goes on and they have a genius in Wayne Rooney.
You must be fit and raring to go after being out for so long with injury...
That is for sure. My first thought when I returned to the field was to stay at Real and fight for my old starting spot as I genuinely believed I could make a contribution in La Liga and the Champions League.
Then I realised the club had moved on by buying Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Karim Benzema and it was time for me to accept the situation and make alternative plans. At the age of 33, playing now and again is no use to me. I intend to go to the World Cup in South Africa next summer and the only way to achieve this is to play, play and play.
Does this feel like a new chapter in your career?
Hamburg have given me the opportunity to make a fresh start, to really get my comeback underway, and I can't waste a single minute. Hamburg are just what I need at this moment in time as I'm going to be their main striker and will have plenty of opportunity to work on my match fitness and sharpness in front of goal.
Obviously, I don't have it in writing that I will start automatically but that's the impression I got from talking with the coach Bruno Labbadia and the board.
What do you say to those who feel signing a player with your medical record is a risk?
There are bound to be those who think like this and I can't do anything about it. Everyone knows my age and I have had two bad injuries to my right knee, but I'm not looking to fool anyone here. I'm fit and raring to go again. My knee is as good as new thanks to my American surgeon Dr Richard Steadman and he is convinced it can stand up to the demands of top-flight football. I feel like a new man physically and the mental side of things is so important. I'm certain I have a decent amount of time left at the top level.
What are your targets at Hamburg?
The top priority is doing your bit to make your club successful and all the rest flows from there. If I play as well I have in the past and score regularly in the Bundesliga, I would like to think the Dutch national coach will give me a call and I will have the chance to compete in the World Cup. I'm always up for new challenges. It's what keeps me going.
Are international ambitions at the forefront of your mind given that this is a World Cup year?
Getting back into the Holland team is part of my motivation for sure. Club-wise, I'm aiming to help Hamburg qualify for the Champions League and to go as far as possible in the Europa League this season. Our next tie is against my old club PSV Eindhoven, which is the sort of coincidence that only football can bring about. Those who know me well understand I'm not one to live in the past. All the honours I've picked up will only be savoured at the end of my career. I'm fixated on the future, the 18-month deal I've signed with Hamburg.
Do you feel any resentment towards Real Madrid for pushing you out of the Bernabeu?
Not in the slightest. I don't bear any grudges against the guys in charge there. They didn't include me in their plans, but I was big enough to accept it and try my luck somewhere else. Real treated me as a gentleman and we didn't part on bad terms at all. I really had a fantastic time at the Bernabeu.
I scored lots of goals in Madrid, worked with some of the best players on the planet, won La Liga in 2007 and, perhaps most important of all, I had a great relationship with the fans. I won't forget the support they gave me right until the end. It gives me goose bumps just to think about it. It was a privilege.