United hit new snag in Van Nistelrooy saga

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The Independent Football

Sir Alex Ferguson has hardly endeared himself to the Dutch over the last few days, and the news that PSV Eindhoven expect Ruud van Nistelrooy to see out the season in the Netherlands may strain relations still further.

Sir Alex Ferguson has hardly endeared himself to the Dutch over the last few days, and the news that PSV Eindhoven expect Ruud van Nistelrooy to see out the season in the Netherlands may strain relations still further.

The striker, whose £18m deal to take him to Old Trafford collapsed following a failed medical and then a cruciate knee injury, was in Manchester on Wednesday to see United regain control of Group G of the Champions' League. Whether they are in control of Van Nistelrooy's destiny is, however, open to question. PSV's president, Harry van Raay, who was angered by Ferguson's initial offer to allow the striker to continue his rehabilitation at United's training ground, said he expected Van Nistelrooy to remain at the Philips stadium for the foreseeable future. He pointed out there was no understanding between the two clubs over what happens to the 24-year-old when he is ready to resume playing in March.

"The deal is back to square one," Van Raay said. "There is no agreement in place and Ruud van Nistelrooy is totally a PSV player. We would like to keep a player of his quality but we recognise the financial strength of Manchester United. We haven't discussed his future at all but he has told me he wants to play for PSV and then see what happens."

United might well be in favour of this anyway since it would allow Ferguson, who had the player watched on some 40 occasions before attempting to conclude the deal, to see whether he can regain the sharpness that enabled him to find the net 29 times last season.

His offer to help with Van Nistelrooy's rehabilitation was not mischievous, although it was seen that way by Eindhoven, who allowed him to go to the United States for treatment. Manchester United have considerable experience in nursing players with cruciate ligament damage, most notably Roy Keane, Terry Cooke and Wes Brown.

Ferguson pointed out that Brown, who appeared in the dramatic closing moments at Old Trafford as a substitute, had benefited from not being rushed back. "He is a better player now than he was then," he said. "And we did well by keeping him out for a year. I am sure that it helped Wes Brown to see Roy Keane's determination to come back."

Coming back late in a game has been a constant feature of United's European adventures in recent seasons. Had PSV escaped with a draw, United would have needed to take four points from their final two games to ensure qualification.

The tightness of many of the groups, with Barcelona, Kiev, Manchester United and Milan still unsure of their fate, has given an answer to those who believe that having a first round-robin stage was merely a method of raking in more money for big clubs whose progress was assured.

As it is, Eindhoven, the group leaders on Wednesday morning, suddenly look vulnerable since their next match is the long trek to the Republican stadium in Kiev, where Dynamo are still formidable. The Ukrainians' away form has, by contrast, been shocking as their collapse against Anderlecht, when they conceded four first-half goals after taking the lead, demonstrated.

Even though some might bill it as a formality, there is nothing certain about United's game in Brussels on Tuesday. Anderlecht have beaten both Eindhoven and, more dramatically, Kiev in the Constant Vanden Stock stadium. "PSV don't have a game at the weekend; we have Leeds United on Saturday morning and then travel on Monday morning to Anderlecht. What does that tell you?" Ferguson asked. It was a theme he had begun in his programme notes and before the game when he defended United's "arrogance" in resting key players before last month's 3-1 defeat in the Philips stadium. "European clubs laugh at the way we have this never-ending cycle of fixtures in England," said Ferguson. "In contrast, the authorities in Holland and other countries try to help clubs playing in European competition by allowing postponements, something that is virtually impossible here. I don't expect to see much change in my time."

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