Patrick Kluivert: the ultimate Bosman

Rob Tonkinson

It’s easy to become an overlooked striker in the 1990s and 2000s, those decades mostly belonged to the likes of Ronaldo, Raul and Thierry Henry, who dazzled the footballing world with their outrageous skill and deadly finishing, however if there was one underrated star that was up there with them it was Patrick Kluivert.

The Dutchman exploded onto the scene in August 1994 as part of Ajax’s ‘golden generation’ alongside the likes of future Barcelona teammate Marc Overmars and Edgar Davids, the de Boer brothers and Clarence Seedorf.

In his first season, the young striker took the world stage by storm, scoring 18 goals in 25 games in the Eredivisie (only bettered by PSV’s Ronaldo) he helped Ajax go the entire league season unbeaten and with partner Jari Litmanen helped them to score 106 goals.

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Kluivert’s precise first touch, even for a youngster was a trademark of Ajax’ amazing youth coaching, much like the likes of Johan Cruyff or Dennis Bergkamp before him, the 18-year-old’s initial control of the ball could always be relied upon to find him the extra yard of space which would usually help set up the perfectly executed finish.

Although a crowd loves a thrashed in goal from 25+ yards out, that wasn’t the beauty of Kluivert’s game, so often he would find an accurately placed finish that left goalkeepers scrambling.

As Ajax completed the perfect league season in the Netherlands, they also set themselves apart as one of the best Dutch sides ever assembled, winning the UEFA Champions League and Kluivert yet again was a big part of it.

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Coming on as a late substitute in the final in Vienna, Frank Rijkaard played in the 18-year-old and with his first touch set himself to execute an inch perfect finish into the bottom corner, with legendary AC Milan goalkeeper Sebastiano Rossi clawing at thin air.

In scoring the winning goal, Kluivert became the youngest ever UEFA Champions League Final goalscorer at 18 years, 10 months and 23 days.

Ajax so nearly retained the European Cup in 1996, losing in the final to Juventus in Rome, Kluivert sadly missed the final through injury, although his 15 goals in the Eredivisie helped the Lancers retain their Dutch crown by one point.

However, the 1996 UEFA Champions League final defeat sparked the beginning of the end for Ajax’s ‘golden generation’, Seedorf and Davids left for Italy in 1995 and 1996, Arsenal signed Overmars despite his knee injuries in 1997 and in the same summer, Kluivert himself was on the move on a free transfer to AC Milan in 1997.

The advent of the Bosman ruling, allowing players to move freely between clubs at their end of the contracts was a big killer for Ajax’s team and Kluivert was no exception and curiously a player with such a high reputation would only move for one transfer fee in his entire career.

His career had started well in Italy but Milan were suffering a transitional period, finishing a lowly 10th in 1998 and he only scored nine goals in 33 games with Rossoneri.

In 1998, he moved for the only transfer fee (£8.75m) in his career as he linked back up with Ajax coach Louis Van Gaal and found the best form of his career.

Alongside Rivaldo, he scored 15 goals in La Liga as the Catalan side retained their Spanish title but as Kluivert’s star grew, Barca struggled in the league, the Dutch forward scored over 20 goals in his next four seasons but Barca would go without a trophy in his other five seasons in Spain.

It was whilst at Barcelona he also found his best form with Dutch national side, making his way to the top of the Netherlands scoring charts with 40 goals in 79 games, since eclipsed by Robin van Persie’s 50 in 101 games and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s 42 in 76 games.

As the Netherlands co-hosted Euro 2000 he scored five goals to be named the tournament’s Golden Boot winner and was also named in the Team of the Tournament, two years prior he had also been apart of the Dutch squad which reached the FIFA World Cup semi-finals, losing on penalties to Brazil.

He would be released in 2004 alongside fellow Dutchmen Phillip Cocu, Overmars and Davids as his replacement Samuel Eto’o scored 29 goals that season and led the Catalan side to their first League title since 1999.

At the end of his career, he would have one season spells at a variety of clubs, being one of the last signings of Sir Bobby Robson’s reign at Newcastle United, he scored 13 goals in 37 games, including five in six UEFA Cup games but found himself released again at the end of the season.

The final three seasons of his career would be relatively uneventful only finding the net eight more times over 46 games for Valencia, PSV and Lille, although he did pick up a third and final Eredivisie with PSV.

Since retirement from playing, he’s experienced mixed success as a coach, leading the Jong FC Twente side to the Beloften Eredivisie title in 2012 and being Van Gaal’s assistant as the Dutch finished in Third Place in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, as of 2016 he has been the Director of Football at PSG.

Almost a decade on from his retirement, the world can now get excited about a new Kluivert on the scene as Patrick’s son Justin has recently broken into the Ajax first-team, scoring twice so far in his first season.

With Ajax potentially about to make the UEFA Europa League final, their first major European final since 1996, a Kluivert could be at the forefront of Ajax’s next ‘golden generation’.

Arguably it was being a good player in an era that heralded some of the greatest out and out strikers of all-time in Spain that makes Kluivert rather overlooked.

At a time where La Liga boasted superstars Ronaldo and Rivaldo, homegrown stars Raul and Fernando Morientes and the up and coming Eto’o, Kluivert never once finished as La Liga’s top goalscorer despite his great goals to games record in Catalunya.

Perhaps that holds him back from being truly viewed as one of the best the Netherlands’ has ever produced.