Van Nistelrooy and Kluivert

Van Nistelrooy and Kluivert

On this day in 1976, two of the Netherlands’ finest ever strikers, Rutgerus Johannes Martinus van Nistelrooij and Patrick Stephan Kluivert, were born some 90 kilometres apart.

Kluivert, the son of a Surinamese football star, was born in the bustle of Amsterdam and was always the centre of attention from a young age. He was earmarked for greatness following his recruitment by Ajax at just five years old and was regularly exposed to some of his country’s most famous footballing names from a young age.



Ruud on the other hand grew up in Oss, a quiet town of in the country’s south. 

While Kluivert was rapidly progressing through the ranks in the Ajax youth teams and featuring at almost every age group for the Netherlands youth sides, Ruud was toiling away as a midfielder at local clubs Nooit Gedacht and RKSV Margriet. It was not until after he had turned 17 that he had his first taste of life as a professional footballer in any capacity, after being picked up as a trainee at second division side Den Bosch. It was here that his remarkable composure and finishing ability was discovered and he was converted to a forward. 



While Ruud was finding his feet in the professional game, Patrick was conquering it. The 94/95 season would see the 18 year old Kluivert establish himself in Ajax’s first team with a remarkable 18 goals in just 25 Eredivisie appearances, as Ajax went unbeaten to win the league. 

While he had been impressing domestically, it would be one night in May 1995 that Kluivert would really announce himself to the world. 

Fifteen minutes after coming on as a 70th minute sub, Kluivert received a pass from Frank Rijkaard, turned and while holding off two Milan defenders, poked the ball into the net in the dying minutes. His goal ensured Ajax won the Champions League for the first time in over 20 years and made him the youngest man to ever score in a Champions League final. 

His remarkable season culminated with the teenager placing fifth on the Ballon d’or shortlist.



While Patrick continued to deal with his new found fame, Ruud kept plugging away. After a couple of unremarkable seasons, it would be during the 96/97 season that he really began to find his footing in the professional game. Twelve goals and plenty of eye catching displays earned Ruud a €300,000 euro transfer to Eredivisie outfit Heerenveen and after another strong year he would be on the move once again. Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven snapped up his services for a Dutch domestic transfer record of 6 million euros. 

Kluivert too had been on the move. He had followed his remarkable 94/95 season by again becoming Ajax’s top scorer the following year before an injury stunted 96/97 season and an expiring contract saw him looking around for new pastures. An unremarkable year at AC Milan followed before Barcelona forked out almost €9,000,000 for his services. 

The 98/99 season would be huge for both men: for Kluivert it would be a chance to save what looked like an already flagging career and for Ruud, a chance to prove himself for one of his country’s largest teams. As it transpired both would do well, a decent first season in Spain dissuaded any fears that Kluivert was already on the way out while Van Nistelrooy scored a remarkable 41 goals in 45 games as he won Dutch footballer of the year.



While perhaps not the force he once looked like he could have been, Kluivert was still completely unplayable on his day and his club form meant that he was still very much considered first choice for the spot of striker for his national team. 

That meant that even with his remarkable club form and big money move to Manchester United in 2001, by 27 years old Van Nistelrooy had appeared in just 27 games for his country. 

In many ways there is a clear passing of the baton between Kluivert and Van Nistelrooy as the number one Dutch striker. November 2003 would see the Netherlands taking on Scotland in a crucial two legged Euro 2004 play off tie. Kluivert played 77 minutes of the disastrous 0-1 first leg defeat and was hooked for Van Nistelrooy, who would go to complain to reporters after the game: “I can't be the only Dutch player who closes down and leads from the front.” 

Like many in the Dutch game, Ruud was growing tired of his compatriot’s attitude and application, a situation that was exemplified perfectly by Kluivert controversially being pictured at a rave shortly after the defeat. 

Van Nistelrooy would start the return leg as the Dutch cruised to a 6-1 victory, Kluivert made a 12 minute cameo but in truth his time in as the spearhead of the Dutch national side was done. He had scored more goals than anyone else in the history of the Dutch national side before he had even reached his 28th birthday. 

A couple more appearances in friendlies followed but Kluivert was an unused sub at Euro 2004, with Roy Makaay and Pierre Van Hooijdonk preferred back ups for Van Nistelrooy.



Despite being the exact same age, Kluivert was done with the national team at 27 while Van Nistelrooy played on for another seven years. Amassing a total of 43 more appearances 24 more goals over the proceeding years, Kluivert never made a competitive appearance again. 

The next four years would see Kluivert bounce around a few clubs, including a disastrous stint at Newcastle, before hanging up his boots at just 31. For Van Nistelrooy his time at United would be followed by a move to Real Madrid, where he would once again finish as league top scorer in his first season and by the end of the 2010’s he was adjudged to have been the World's Top Goal Scorer of the Last Decade by the IFFHS. 

While injuries undoubtedly played a part in Kluivert’s spectacular fall off as a player, its also very much easy to argue that it was all too much too soon for the young man. While Ruud was allowed to develop his game in his own time and space, Kluivert was thrown straight in. While Ruud today is an assistant manager for his national side, Kluivert is helping to guide the next generation of talent as director of youth football at his former club Barcelona. A strange position perhaps for a man generally considered to have somewhat squandered his own rich talent, but perhaps there are few people more suited to truly understanding the pressure that comes with that natural talent.



Words by Andy Gallagher





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