MARTIN KEOWN: I couldn’t trust Ruud van Nistelrooy and he became a hate figure among Arsenal players…I don’t regret my celebration after he missed that penalty at Old Trafford in 2003
- I respected Ruud van Nistelrooy’s talent when he was at Manchester United
- But we always had quarrels when we faced each other as opponents
- I couldn’t control my emotions when he missed that penalty, but I don’t regret it
- Now looking forward to seeing how his PSV side cope with Arsenal in form
I respected Ruud van Nistelrooy’s talent and I still do. A brilliant goalscorer. A predator with penalties. An undisputed winner for Manchester United.
For nearly 20 years, people have been asking me about the Battle of Old Trafford almost daily. But the context is often forgotten.
When Arsenal won the title at Old Trafford in May 2002, Van Nistelrooy stamped on my foot as I marked him. As a result, I missed the last game of the Arsenal season and had my doubts about the World Cup that summer.
Martin Keown celebrates after Ruud van Nistelrooy missed a stoppage time penalty for Manchester United in 2003 at Old Trafford
In December 2002 there was another stamp and I responded by waving an arm at Van Nistelrooy. He fell dramatically and although I apologized for my reaction, the FA fined me.
In February 2003, his chest-level challenge earned him a yellow card and sparked another fight between both sets of players.
By the time the Battle of Old Trafford got underway we had a back catalog of altercations and I felt like he had an annoying side to his game.
Over the years I have enjoyed many fair matches against United strikers including Teddy Sheringham, Andy Cole, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Dwight Yorke and Mark Hughes.
You could trust all those attackers for a fair fight, especially Hughes. I knew when I met Hughes it would be a clean fight; let the best win.
But two seasons earlier at Old Trafford, tensions between the pair had already risen
But I didn’t feel like I could trust Van Nistelrooy at Old Trafford in September 2003. He would collapse at the slightest touch in the penalty area.
Ray Parlor said years later that I had started the battle of Old Trafford. Not me! I maintain that it started when Van Nistelrooy pretended to be injured, as if Patrick Vieira had kicked him.
Vieira was nowhere near his midriff, but it got him a second yellow card from the referee, Steve Bennett.
Van Nistelrooy immediately became a hate figure among the players of Arsenal. We felt he had managed to cheat to leave us at Old Trafford, one of the most intimidating stadiums in world football at the time.
When United won a stoppage time penalty after I was judged to have fouled Diego Forlan, we feared the worst when he stepped up to take it.
When he surprisingly crashed his dot on the bar, I couldn’t contain my emotions. It was a raw reaction in the middle of a match between two major Premier League rivals.
Van Nistelrooy’s PSV Eindhoven side will now face Arsenal in the Europa League on Thursday
I felt that justice had been done and so did my teammates. Looking back, we might have toned down our response. But it happened in the heat of battle and I don’t regret what I did.
I remember breaking the news about the FA fines. The club was fined £175,000. I was fined £20,000 and banned for three matches. Lauren, £40,000 and four games. Vieira, £20,000 and one game. Parlor, £10,000 and one game. Ashley Cole, £10,000. With all those suspensions, it makes it all the more remarkable that we actually went unbeaten for the entire 2003-04 season.
We still paid a heavy price for the Battle of Old Trafford and let’s just say I think the FA finally had enough money to replace the roof of their HQ!
When we faced United in the FA Cup semi-final in April 2004, I had moved on. I approached Van Nistelrooy to shake his hand. He looked hesitant at first. I held out my hand and said to him, “Don’t take it personally.” I don’t know if he did or still does.
I certainly do not harbor any malice towards Van Nistelrooy today. What’s happened has happened, and I’m looking forward to seeing his PSV side try to stop Mikel Arteta’s high-flyers from taking another win tonight!
The Gunners want to keep their excellent start to the season in all competitions