Marc Overmars: the world-class winger blighted by injury

Jason Rodgers
Jason Rodgers
Jason Rodgers
Contributor

Any Arsenal fan of the late 1990s will tell you what an outstanding player Marc Overmars was in his prime. Part of the amazing Ajax squad that dominated European football during the middle part of that decade, Overmars took the Premier League by storm, eventually landing a £25million move to Barcelona.

The unfortunate part of Overmars’ story however is that the Dutchman, known for his pace and trickery, could have been even better if it wasn’t for several long-term injuries.

His early life illustrated his obsession with football and his determination to make it to the top. Overmars struggled with school, neglecting his homework in order to play football on the farm his family owned. He did pass a couple of exams, but spent most of his teenage years weight-training in order to develop the lightning fast speed he was known for.

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Overmars spent the first few years of his career playing for local sides SV Epe and Go Ahead Eagles before making a £500,000 move to Willem II in 1991. His first season of Eredivisie football was so impressive that just a year later, Overmars moved to Dutch giants Ajax for just under £1million.

It was at Ajax where Overmars really began to make a name for himself. Praised by manager Louis van Gaal for his versatility, Overmars won the Dutch Golden Boot, a Footballer of the Year award given by journalists, in 1993, and helped Ajax cruise to the league title in 1994.

At the 1994 World Cup, the young Dutchman received plaudits from across the globe. His performances, which took Holland to the quarter-finals, saw him receive the Best Young Player Award. He took this confidence into the 1994/95 league campaign, a season which saw Ajax win the UEFA Champions League. It was a competition that Overmars has grown to dislike in recent years.

“When I won it with Ajax it was only the teams who finished first who took part. It’s not special any more. I think the Champions’ League is just a starter for what they want to do in the future, create a European League.”

Marc Overmars

In December 1995, Overmars’ world was crushed after he tore his cruciate ligaments in his left knee. One of the worst injuries a player can suffer; Overmars was out for eight months.

By the time he returned in late 1996, the newly-introduced Bosman rule had stripped Ajax of many of their stars. Overmars was clearly losing interest in the team, and it was no surprise when he left at the end of the season, joining Arsenal for around £5million.

It was a gamble by Arsene Wenger, many initially felt that Overmars’ injury would overwhelm him, but by the second half of his debut season, Overmars exploded into life and his form helped Arsenal towards their first Premier League crown.

Holland came into the 1998 World Cup as one of the favourites. Overmars was now one of the top wingers in the world and was expecting to propel his nation to glory. For a while, it looked like that would be the case, until Overmars picked up an injury before the quarter-final against Argentina. His determination to play brought him on as a substitute, but this meant that he was unavailable for the crucial semi-final against Brazil. Considering that Holland only lost on penalties in that game, it could be argued that with Overmars they may well have made the final.

After that heartbreak, the Dutchman would play two more seasons in the Premier League for Arsenal. His speed, vision and dribbling ability made him a star in the fast-paced game – Gary Neville said Overmars was the toughest winger he ever faced.

When Barcelona came calling for his services in 2000, Overmars found it impossible to say no, despite his love for Arsenal and Wenger. The fee of £25million was the biggest in Dutch footballing history, and the media attention for the move was even greater. Unfortunately, the transfer would not turn out as planned.

Overmars joined Barcelona at a time where they were in a slump. Manager turnover was high and this meant that it was difficult for Overmars to find his usual explosive form, even though many felt he was still the star player in a poor Barca side.

By the 2001/02 season however, several minor injuries meant that Overmars lost his place in the side to new signing Javier Saviola as well as the emerging Xavi. There were still some great moments, Overmars’ goal in the Champions League against Liverpool stands out, but these were few and far between.

Towards the end of his career, persistent knee problems meant that Overmars’ opportunities for both club and country became more and more limited. After Euro 2004, by which stage he was only able to train once a week, he decided to retire from professional football.

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A great performance in Jaap Stam’s testimonial in 2008 led to a brief one-year comeback with Go Ahead Eagles, but Overmars was well past his best by the stage. He is now the director of football at Ajax, but will always be remembered as “Roadrunner” due to his blistering speed and ability to pick out a cross.