Nostalgia

Patrick Kluivert: one of the great finishers of his generation

Mention the name Patrick Kluivert to football fans and it is likely that images of him scoring the winning goal for Ajax in the 1995 Champions League Final against A.C. Milan springs to mind. In doing so, Kluivert became the youngest ever goalscorer in the final of Europe’s major club competition and thus cemented his place as part of the esteemed Ajax golden generation side of the mid-1990s.

Yet for all the success enjoyed at Ajax during this halcyon period, it is perhaps Kluivert’s subsequent 6-year period at Catalan giants Barcelona, via a short spell at A.C. Milan, for which he remains best remembered.

It is a state of affairs that is no doubt perplexing to some given that Kluivert achieved far more in terms of trophies and honours at Ajax than he ever did at the Nou Camp. Nevertheless, on a personal level, Kluivert really came of age at Barcelona and it was here that his star shone all too briefly as a true great of the world game.

In 1997 after just two years as a regular at Ajax, Kluivert shocked the club by announcing he was quitting. Refusing to sign the new contract put in front of him, Kluivert left Holland for Italy and the San Siro. A lacklustre solitary season for A.C. Milan later and Kluivert was on the move again, this time to be reunited with his old mentor, Luis Van Gaal, at Barcelona.

In six full seasons at Barcelona, Kluivert would go onto to make more than 250 appearances in all competitions and score more than 120 goals. That he did so while winning but a single La Liga (in 1998-99) during his spell at the club was all the more surprising.

Initially paired with Brazilian ace Rivaldo, the young Kluivert hit the ground running and amassed 15 goals in 35 league appearances in his inaugural season at the club. It was a season of great success as Barcelona retained the La Liga title they had won the next year and yet trophy-wise this was as good as it got as Barcelona failed to win another major trophy in the five years that were to follow.

Despite this almost inexplicable barren run, Kluivert’s star continued to rise on a personal level. Deployed as a striker, Kluivert developed a powerful physique that enabled him to be deployed as a target man who could hold the ball up but there was much more to his game than pure brawn.

Possessing a deft touch and admirable ball control, Kluivert was blessed with the ability to play deeper when the need arose and in such circumstances was able to showcase his skills which included a wide range of passing and the ability to bring others into the game.

Making his international bow in 1994 while still only 18 years old, Kluivert further cemented his place in the Dutch team following his move to the Nou Camp. An ardent 1998 World Cup campaign in the summer before his transfer to Barcelona had included a red card against Belgium, scoring the winning goal in the quarter-final clash with Argentina and then netting a late equaliser in the semi-final against Brazil before ultimate disappointment came by way of a penalty shoot-out defeat.

At the end of his second season at Barcelona his mentor, Van Gaal, left the club and then, dramatically, so did Luis Figo. As Barcelona declined under a succession of managers, finishing as low as sixth in La Liga, Kluivert began to attract some attention and criticism for a perceived occasional over-indulgence in the bars and nightclubs of Barcelona.

Despite this criticism, Kluivert’s numbers were still good and going into his sixth full season at the club he was still averaging more than one goal every two games.

By 2003-04, however, things were beginning to go wrong. With his former teammate Frank Rijkaard now in charge, Kluivert found himself in and out of the team before a serious knee injury led to him being sidelined for several months. Unable to force his way back into the side following his return from injury, Kluivert held talks with the club regarding his future.

Keen to stay at the club but aware that as one of the highest earners on the books he was a prime candidate to be placed on the transfer list, Kluivert actually offered to take a pay cut but this suggestion was rejected by the club who instead granted him a free transfer.

It was at this point that Kluivert accepted an offer to sign for Newcastle United and so made his bow in the Premier League six years after Sir Alex Ferguson had tried unsuccessfully to sign him for Manchester United.

Kluivert would only play one season at Newcastle and then one further season at each of Valencia, PSV and Lille before retiring from football in 2008.

Although it could be argued that Kluivert perhaps failed to totally live up to his early potential and promise, the half-dozen years he spent at Barcelona highlighted just what a gifted talent he really possessed.