Ruud van Nistelrooy has been given "special attention" by the Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, and his assistant Carlos Queiroz in an effort to reassure the Dutch forward that he remains a key figure at Old Trafford following his recent demotion to the substitute's bench.
Van Nistelrooy, who along with Arsenal's Thierry Henry is the joint-leading Premiership goalscorer this season, is likely to have to settle for a place on the bench for the fourth game in a row today when United travel to West Bromwich Albion with the aim of strengthening their grip on second position behind the leaders Chelsea.
The £19m striker has failed to reclaim his starting spot since being dropped by Ferguson for the Carling Cup final against Wigan Athletic last month, prompting reports of interest in the player from Milan, Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United.
However, with Ferguson absent from his weekly press conference yesterday in order to attend the funeral of the former Celtic and Scotland player Jimmy Johnstone, Queiroz aimed to quell speculation over Van Nistelrooy's future by insisting that the 29-year-old continues to have a major role to play at Old Trafford.
Queiroz said: "Ruud has always been a fixture in the first-team, so that's why we pay special attention to him now. Our job is to deal with the players who don't play and we talk to them on a daily basis.
"But the most important thing to remember is that Ruud is a crucial player for our goals and our ambitions. Nobody can have any doubts about that. He is part of our family and part of our team. His contribution, whether starting or coming off the bench, is always crucial for us and there has never been any doubt about that.
"Do I see him being here long-term? Of course I do. Ruud is part of our plans, for the short, medium and long term."
Despite Van Nistelrooy's market value still likely to be in excess of £10m, Queiroz suggested that United have no intention of allowing the former PSV Eindhoven forward to leave Old Trafford this summer.
He added: "It's no surprise that, of 50 teams in the world, 49 of them want to sign Ruud. There is only one team that doesn't need to chase him and that is Manchester United because we already have him.
"We don't need to show anything else other than our commitment and appreciation to the player because he is a crucial player to us.
"This is one period that he is not playing, but it doesn't mean that Ruud's ability and contribution to the team is any less. His value to the team is exactly the same as it has always been, even though he hasn't been a starting player in recent games."
Queiroz, meanwhile, rejected suggestions that the club's policy of charging players for Carling Cup final tickets last month had led to unrest within the squad.
He said: "All the players and the staff had the possibility to buy the tickets we needed, so I wasn't aware of any problem."Reuse content