Liverpool: Ruud van Nistelrooy had more reason than most to celebrate champions Manchester United’s 2-1 win over Everton at Goodison Park Sunday.
The Dutch international striker’s penalty 11 minutes from time not only meant United, who had already won the title, rounded off the English Premiership season with a win but also saw their prolific striker finish as the League’s top-scorer with 25 goals.
Van Nistelrooy’s tally put him one ahead of Arsenal forward Thierry Henry and left the former PSV Eindhoven marksman understandably proud.
“The Golden Boot and a Premiership winner’s medal is a great combination,” said Van Nistelrooy, 26, who finished the season with 44 goals in all competitions. “Last year I won some awards but they didn’t mean as much because the club didn’t win anything, so today is extra special.”
A $29.6 million purchase from PSV in 200l, Van Nistelrooy’s final goal of the campaign saw him become the first United player to score in ten successive games, as well as equalling his own Premiership record of scoring in eight consecutive matches.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who kept faith in Van Nistelrooy even after the Dutchman suffered a leg fracture ahead of his move to Old Trafford, was delighted with his goal machine.
“He just gets better and stronger every game,” Ferguson said. “I am really pleased for people like Ruud and Veron, who are experiencing this feeling for the first time.
“No matter how much you win in the game, you want to enjoy days like this,” added Ferguson whose side were presented with the Premiership trophy at Goodison, their eighth in 11 seasons. “It’s a great day for United, there’s no doubt about that and you can’t deny our form’s been fantastic,” Ferguson said.
“Don’t believe all the stories that have come from south of the Birmingham divide. We proved ourselves as champions.”
Ferguson, whose team had finished without a trophy and third in the League last season, also sent his rivals an early warning. “Next year, we’ll be really enthusiastic and everyone will be looking forward to it,” he said. “I think we’ll enjoy our summer better this year.”
England captain David Beckham, who brought the Red Devils level with a trademark free-kick shortly before half-time after Everton striker Kevin Campbell had put the home side ahead, said: “This one has been the sweetest out of the six I have won and the players are obviously very happy. “We have always spoken about our team spirit being good, we have stuck together through thick and thin and it has paid off.”
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, whose team will defend the FA Cup tile Saturday against Southampton, finished off with the kind of goal glut they had so badly needed last month.
Though their lead over United evaporated in April with three draws, Freddie Ljungberg became the third Arsenal player to score a hattrick in five days. His effort helped Arsenal secure a 4-0 win at Sunderland after Robert Pires and Jermaine Pennant had slammed three each in their 6-1 win over Southampton.
However, even a Cup final victory would still make it a disappointing season for the red and white side of north London — denied an unprecedented ‘double double’ by United and a place in the Champions League quarter finals by Valencia.
Outside the two clubs who have dominated English football for the past five years, Newcastle United and Chelsea are now just two matches away from a place in the lucrative group phase of the Champions League.
While Newcastle could afford to relax on Sunday, Chelsea made sure of their place in the Champions League qualifying competition with a 2-1 win over Liverpool. (Agencies)