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July 1st, 1976

June 3, 2011

On July 1st 1976 two Dutch strikers were born. Both are now regarded as great strikers, yet their career path cannot be any more different. They only played 23 matches together but what could have been a great partnership ended up in a disappointment for a nation. Here is the rise & fall of Patrick Kluivert and Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Patrick Kluivert came into prominence when he scored that goal for Ajax in the 1995 Champions League final. Born and bred in Amsterdam, he was another excellent graduate of the Ajax youth academy. He made his professional debut at the age of 18 then continued to play in two Champions League finals, an Intercontinental Cup final and made his debut for Oranje all before he even turned 20. In 1997 he left on a free transfer to AC Milan but soon found himself more on the bench. A year later Louis van Gaal took him to Barcelona where he played his best football, winning the La Liga title in 1999. In Oranje he became the main striker and proceeded to break the goalscoring record. To date Kluivert is still Netherland’s top goalscorer with 40 goals from 79 caps.

The year 2004 is when everything started to go downhill for him. He was released by Barcelona and moved to Newcastle where he soon was labelled a failure due to injuries and lack of goals. He did go to Euro 2004 with Oranje but was the only outfield player who did not get any minutes – yet he was the one with the #9 jersey. His international career was pretty much over after Euro 2004. After a year at Newcastle he went back to Spain, to play for Valencia. One year and one goal later he moved to PSV. Again he only lasted one year, before moving on to French side Lille. He barely played there, but was very highly regarded as he was an influential player in the dressing room helping the younger players. After a year there he left and couldn’t find a club so he finally gave in and retired. Kluivert recently left his position as assistant-caoch at NEC and is keen to join Cruijff’s Ajax revolution.

When Patrick Kluivert was celebrating Champions League success, Ruud van Nistelrooy was still playing in second division side FC Den Bosch. He moved to Heerenveen in 1997 where he showcased how good he is to the Dutch audience. PSV proceeded to break the Dutch transfer record to sign him in 1998 and he flourished at PSV. In 2000 Manchester United was about to sign him when he injured his knee badly so the deal was postponed. The move finally materialised in 2001 and he became known to the wider world. He received his international call-up in 1998 but only became a mainstay of the Dutch team after 2001.

During Euro 2004, Ruud van Nistelrooy became the main striker. The first big tournament for him was also the last one for Kluivert and it could be seen as a passing of the torch from one great striker to another. Pretty much until 2008 van Nistelrooy has been the Dutch main striker and is still wanting to go to Euro 2012. His club career is also still going. After leaving Manchester, he joined Real Madrid. When Florentino Perez got bored of Dutch players he departed for Hamburg SV and yesterday he signed for Spanish side Malaga. As for the Dutch team, he can surpass Kluivert’s record as he is now on 35 goals from 70 caps.

It wasn’t very often that both played together. Kluivert has said that it is very nice to play alongside Ruud but he truth is they weren’t very compatible. Kluivert is a typical 4-3-3 striker, one who plays with his back to the goal to then create opportunities for him or the team. Van Nistelrooy on the other hand is a poacher type, one that will wait for an opportunity to present itself, he is not one that can create an opportunity. When playing together, it just doesn’t work as one can’t serve the other (Kluivert serves his midfielders not his fellow strikers). During the Euro 2004 qualifiers, Advocaat famously said that “Patrick Kluivert and Ruud van Nistelrooy will not play together in the same team again.” Out of the 23 matches they played together between 1998 and 2004, only during 12 matches did they actually play on the pitch together for 90 minutes.

The following graph is what I perceive to be their career curve since 1995. Kluivert reached his peak early on and then declined while van Nistelrooy was a late starter and is still going.

Van Nistelrooy only needs 5 more goals and 9 caps to equal Kluivert’s record. I really hope he does it. It will be a unique achievement. Two players born on the same day scoring the same amount of goals in the same amount of caps for Netherlands, yet their careers took different paths to get there.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    September 11, 2012 02:50

    nice read

  2. June 27, 2013 10:47

    Unfortunately they had reached the peak performance on the different era

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