Van Nistelrooy key figure for resurgent Real Madrid


Madrid : A year ago, with Real Madrid's ageing "Galacticos" team in tatters, all the talk in the Spanish capital was of building a new, young team.

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Indeed, Real have brought in fresh-faced South Americans Gonzalo Higuain, Fernando Gago and Marcelo this season, plus Spanish youngsters including Jose Antonio Reyes and Miguel Torres.

Yet the key figure in Real's resurgence has been the veteran Ruud Van Nistelrooy who will be 31 on July 1. Van Nistelrooy has lifted Real to the verge of clinching the league title with an astonishing 10 goals in the last seven matches.

He has scored 25 goals in total and will likely finish top scorer, with a three-goal edge on Zaragoza's Diego Milito before the final week of play.

Van Nistelrooy's two goals in the 2-2 draw Saturday at Zaragoza keep Real on top of La Liga and give them the chance to seal the title by beating Mallorca on June 17 at home.

At the start of the season, it was far from obvious that Van Nistelrooy would even be first choice due to the presence of Ronaldo at Real Madrid.

But coach Fabio Capello had the good sense to see which of the two was in better physical shape – and to send Ronaldo back to Milan in January.

His faith in Van Nistelrooy has been richly repaid, not only with the quantity of his goals but also with their timing: at the crucial moments in big matches just as Saturday in Zaragoza.

"Van Nistelrooy has been far and away the most important player of the season," Radio COPE announced late Saturday night, an hour after the Zaragoza draw.

The departure of Ronaldo and the explosion of Van Nistelrooy meant that Real have changed their style of play, banging in centres for the Dutchman instead of trying to play to Ronaldo's speed.

A key figure in this change of approach has been David Beckham -who knows all about Van Nistelrooy from their days together at Manchester United – setting up plentiful goals for the Dutchman with his pinpoint centres.