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Football Genius: Patrick Kluivert

7/1/12

Kluivert learned to play football on the street. He spent most of his time at the red court at the Naardermeerstraat, where he played with other kids, including Edgar Davids. He also played at local football club Schellingwoude for one year. 
He immediately impressed by the amount of goals he scored. At the age of seven Tonny Bruins Slot scouted him for the famous Ajax youth academy. He got through this tough academy with relative ease. During his first season season, he had to compete with Kanu and Ronald de Boer for the striker position. He also often played as an attacking midfielder behind the striker. Kluivert played 25 league games, in which he scored 18 goals. 
After Ajax failed to sign the talented Brazilian Ronaldo (who went from Cruzeiro to rival PSV instead) trainer Louis van Gaal decided to select Kluivert for his first team. By stating “They have Ronaldo, but we have Kluivert” he expressed his confidence in his protйgй. The young striker became part of a team with promising talents like Clarence Seedorf, Marc Overmars and Edgar Davids, names like Edwin van der Sar, Jari Litmanen and the De Boer twins, and experienced players like Danny Blind and Frank Rijkaard. In this young, talented squad Kluivert had the task to succeed Stefan Pettersson, who returned to Sweden that summer.
Kluivert made his debut on 21 August 1994, starting in the match about the Dutch Super Cup against Feyenoord. He immediately scored during his first match, just like other big names from the Ajax academy did. He put the 3-0 on the scoreboard, which turned out to be the final score. It meant he won the first prize of his career. 
This tally made him club top scorer of Ajax. In the Eredivisie only Ronaldo was able to score more goals, becoming Dutch top scorer with a large margin. Kluivert did win the most important prize of the Dutch league though, as he won the Dutch title with Ajax without losing a single match. In the Amstel Cup Kluivert only played and scored for Ajax 2, with who he reached just as far as the first team, namely the quarter finals. The undisputed peak of his season was his role in the Champions League final against titleholder AC Milan. The way Ajax reached this final was impressive. Two group wins over the 1994 winners and a legendary 5-2 win over Bayern Munich were the finest moment in an undefeated road to the final. In the final match in Vienna Kluivert replaced Litmanen in the 69st minute. 
During the season 95/96, Ajax continued their impressive football. Kluivert was named Dutch Talent of the Year and European Footballer of the Year under 21 of 1995, putting a crown on his impressive first season. Ajax again won the Dutch Super Cup, by defeating Dutch Cup winner Feyenoord just like one year earlier.
This time the game went into extra time with a 1-1 score, and in extra time Kluivert netted the Golden Goal from the penalty spot. Also the European Super Cup was added to their honours, by defeating UEFA Cup winners Real Zaragoza. Kluivert scored the equalizer in the away game, after which the tie was decided in Amsterdam as Ajax impressed with a solid 4-0 win. At last Ajax was also allowed to call themselves the best club in the world. They defeated the winner of the Copa Libertadores, Brazilian side Gremio, in the game for the Intercontinental Cup. The Brazilian team eventually lost after a penalty shootout, despite a Kluivert miss. The Dutch title was prolonged, with Kluivert scoring 15 goals and assisting on 7 more. In the Champions League he scored five times. Their best match was against Real Madrid, with names like Hierro, Redondo and Raъl. Kluivert and Litmanen each scored twice, but both saw one of their goals disallowed incorrectly. The bar also prevented Ajax from scoring three times. Despite the final score of ‘just’ 0-2, many regarded this game as the peak of this Ajax-generation. Ajax even got a standing ovation from the Madrilen crowd. Ajax went on to reach the Champions League final again, but lost to Juventus this time after a thrilling penalty shoot-out. It was a defeat which brought some controversy years later, when stories about doping use of the Turin side became public. In 2004 the UEFA even considered for a short time if Ajax should receive the Champions League title after all, but it was quickly decided that the Champions League title 1996 would remain in Italian hands. 
Kluivert wasn’t with them at the time: he had to undergo a knee surgery in April, which meant he couldn’t take part in the final stage of the season. The elimination, together with the fourth place in the Eredivisie, the unsuccessful attempt for the national cup and the loss of the Super Cup, meant the end of a disappointing season without winning any prizes. Kluivert had lost a lot of credit in Amsterdam, but even more in the rest of Holland. 
Here he was reunited with Edgar Davids and Michael Reiziger, who left Ajax one season earlier. Also his teammate Winston Bogarde joined the Rossoneri. Besides the presence of some familiar faces there was another reason for Kluivert’s choice. His youth idols Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard had their greatest successes at the Italian top club, and Kluivert wanted to follow in their footsteps. In the Serie A things didn't get any better for the 21 year old striker though. He had a promising start; in the Trofeo Berlusconi fixture he found the net with an impressive goal. In the Italian league he was however less successful. In a difficult season for the Milanese club, which eventually ended in tenth place, Kluivert couldn’t live up to the expectations. 
After the WC in France things where completely different again. Milan had fired Capello, replacing him with Zaccheroni. In the pre-season Kluivert impressed, and seemed to get a second chance, despite the arrival of 1998 Serie A top scorer Oliver Bierhoff. Also some big clubs, like Manchester United and Arsenal, tried to contract him. Kluivert appeared to be starting next season at AC Milan anyway, but on the last day of the transfer period, Louis van Gaal personally took a plane to Milan, and convinced Kluivert to join him once again at FC Barcelona. AC Milan received 15 million euro for the Dutch striker. 
After being reunited with manager Van Gaal, Kluivert initially had some difficulties adapting in Spain, but earned himself a place in the regular line-up of the reigning champion nevertheless, thereby knocking Sonny Anderson out of the first eleven. Kluivert, with his technique, physical power and team play ability, turned out to complement Brazilian star Rivaldo well: together they would for a successful partnership for years. In his first season Kluivert scored 15 goals and had 16 assists. 
With these tallies he was an important link in the productive team, which eventually scored 87 goals in the Primera Divisiуn: an amount not equaled since then. Kluivert quickly became one of the most popular Barcelona players. Eventually they won the title with a margin of 11 points. Kluivert didn’t participate in the 98/99 Champions League edition, as his last-minute transfer was after the deadline for writing in players for European competitions. 
In the season 99/00, the 100-year anniversary for the Catalan side, Kluivert was assigned with the striker’s number 9, reassuring his status as first striker. The season started with the match for the Supercopa against Copa del Rey winner Valencia. Kluivert headed past goalkeeper Caсizares twice, but it wasn’t enough for the win. Kluivert again scored 15 goals in the domestic competition, setting up another 12 with his assists. He needed 9 games less than the previous season for this production though. He also played in the Champions League again after being absent for two years, directly showing himself again with 7 goals. His goal against FC Porto deserves a special mentioning. He controlled a long ball from the defense with his right foot and finished with a smart left-footed lob over the keeper. Barзa eventually reached to the semi finals, after defeating Chelsea in a spectacular 5-1 victory. The semi final turned out to be the final stage for the Blaugranas, who ended up empty-handed by finishing second in the Primera Divisiуn. Louis van Gaal and chairman Nuсez departed. After the new chairman Gaspart took control of the the club, it quickly declined, both sportive and financially.
The Dutchman accepted to cut his salary by half when asked by the board, but later they would put him on the transfer list anyway. The squad was going through a rigid change and many players, Kluivert being one of them, had to leave. By means of a clause in his contract, his transfer fee was already strongly limited to 1.8 million euro, partially because of that Barcelona decided to let him go on a free transfer. The striker left the Catalan capital as Barcelona's all time topscorer since the fifties. 
The season 03/04 had an unwanted turn for the Dutch striker. After the years under president Gaspart, a new board led by Laporta was assigned in order to repay the huge debts and build a new team. Frank Rijkaard was appointed as the new manager, making it the third time in his career he worked with Kluivert. The striker couldn’t prove himself to his former team mate, who often positioned him as shadow striker. His domestic goal tally would get stuck on 8 goals, and he scored two UEFA Cup goals in three games. He sustained a serious knee injury in January, permanently damaging his knee and taking him months to recover.
Right during this period Barcelona started to play better, with Saviola and new buy Ronaldinho usually starting up front. Kluivert didn’t manage to regain his place in the starting line-up after he returned, though he scored an important goal against Real Madrid as a substitute. The socios turned against Kluivert, just like they turned on other Dutch players in previous years. By booing him and showing banners directed at Kluivert, they clearly showed they didn’t appreciate the presence of the formerly popular top scorer. The new board wanted Kluivert to leave too, his high salary was too much of a financial burden, since they were planning to get some new expensive players as well. 
Since Kluivert had always wanted to play in the English Premiership some day, Kluivert chose to join Newcastle United on a free transfer. Though it was chairman Shepherd who bought Kluivert, trainer Bobby Robson had a lot of faith in the Dutchman. He saw Kluivert as a worthy successor of club legend Alan Shearer in the future. Robson was fired after only several matches though, his replacement Greame Souness was less charmed of the elegant forward, usually preferring hard-working footballers. 
After his first tournament Kluivert had earned credit in the national team, and left the bench for a regular spot in the line-up. However, he would not be playing much on the road to the World Championship. Including the friendly games Kluivert only had 10 caps between both tournaments, in which he scored 7 goals. Reasons for his lack of matches were his personal crisis, and irregular playing time at both Ajax and Milan. For instance, Hiddink refused to call up Kluivert before the trial regarding the rape accusation was solved. The Oranje supporters kept hissing at Kluivert while playing for his country, which almost got Kluivert to end his international career in an early state. Eventually peace returned, and with a strong preparation he seemed to have left his problems behind him. 
During the World Championship in France however, it turned out Kluivert hadn’t closed the dark chapter. In the opening match Kluivert was provoked by Belgian defender Lorenzo Staelens, he reacted by knocking him down with his elbow. As a result he received a red card, and was suspended for two games; The Netherlands managed to get through the group phase without him. The action led to huge criticism in the Netherlands, ruining his image once again. After sitting out his suspension, Kluivert was kept on the bench during the entire 1/8-final against Yugoslavia. Kluivert’s performance during the training sessions was convincing though, so Hiddink decided to let him start in the quarterfinal against Argentina. Kluivert repaid his manager’s faith with the opening goal of the match, which was overshadowed by a stunning winning goal by Dennis Bergkamp in the final minutes. 
Because the next big tournament would be held in the Netherlands and Belgium, the Dutch National Team was automatically qualified. Reunited with Frank Rijkaard, this time as his head coach, Kluivert strengthened his position as first choice striker with ten goals in the preparation friendlies. In a spectacular match against co-organizer Belgium (final score 5-5) he got his revenge for the incident at the WC, scoring three times against their southern neighbors. Just before scoring his first goal, he controlled the ball, stopped it just before the goal line, and casted a sarcastic look back to Lorenzo Staelens before tapping the ball in the empty goal. A half year later he added another two goals against Belgium, while also scoring against Brazil, Germany, Romania and Poland. At the EC in his own country the Dutch team became group winner by winning all three games, Kluivert scored two goals during this phase. He opened the score against Denmark, and scored the first equalizer against the eventual winner France. 
After the 2-1 victory they again had to face a South American football giant, reigning world champion Brazil. In a close match against the Brazilians Ronaldo opened the score just after the half-time break. It was Kluivert who equalized with a powerful header in the last minute of the game. In extra time Kluivert was close to scoring the winning goal, but saw his diagonal shot sail just near the post. Pierre van Hooijdonk had some bad luck too, being fouled in the box, but not earning a penalty kick. Eventually a penalty shootout had to decide the winner. Brazil proved to be more skilled at this aspect of the game. Kluivert would have been the fifth Dutch penalty taker, but didn’t have to take the spot kick anymore. A desillusionated Oranje then failed to defeat Croatia, and ended as fourth of the world. 
Then Yugoslavia was set aside with an impressive score (6-1), with Kluivert playing the first hour. Kluivert excelled in this quarter final by scoring a hattrick, while pressuring Yugoslavian defender to score an own goal. The results and play until then highly raised the Dutch’ believe in winning the title, but Italia crushed their dream during the semi final. Holland dominated the match from the beginning, but despite lots of goalscoring opportunities and despite a red card for italy, they didn’t succeed in taking the lead. Even two penalty kicks during regular time weren’t enough. After Frank de Boer failed the first time, Kluivert hit the post with his penalty kick. In the eventual penalty shootout he dнd score, but to no avail. All his teammates failed, and Italy went on to play the European Championship final. This painful elimination made Kluivert’s top scorer’s title (shared with Savo Miloљevi? after Kluivert openly admitted one of the goals written on his name was actually an own goal by Dejan Govedarica) of the tournament nothing more than a comfort prize. 
After Dennis Bergkamp retired from the national team a lot of things changed. New manager Louis van Gaal tried a lot of new attacking formations, in which Kluivert regularly played as attacking midfielder, as Van Gaal had also used him before at Ajax. Also a lot was expected of his partnership with Ruud van Nistelrooij, with Kluivert setting up chances and Van Nistelrooij as the finisher. Despite the potential, in reality the duo could never fulfill their expectations, while many other forward lines didn’t work out very well either. Partially due to this problem, Holland had a difficult qualification. Losses against Ireland and Portugal eventually proved crucial for the Netherlands.
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