Goalscorers don’t sit on benches and neither should Huntelaar

By Mohamed Moallim

It’s reached the point where Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is no longer frustrated; this summer will be his fourth successive tournament with Oranje, under a third different manager, but Huntelaar’s situation remains the same. If not for Robin van Persie he would be the undisputed Dutch ‘number nine’.
Huntelaar or Van Persie intensified during the build up to Euro 2012. It turned into a debate that divided the nation. The former came out on top in every newspaper poll; however the opinion that mattered belonged to then manager Bert van Marwijk, his decision was already made, opting for Van Persie, off the back of a breathless season in England even if Huntelaar matched him stride for stride in Germany.
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It was a second chance. Van Persie led the line in South Africa but finished with one goal same as Huntelaar despite starting every game. “Of course I’m angry and disappointed,” Huntelaar said after learning of the news from Van Marwijk after a training session days before the tournament. He had every right, one reason supporters backed him was because of his record, Huntelaar scored 15 goals in his last 17 games prior to Euro 2012. Van Persie managed the same amount in his last 26 games spanning three years.
No stranger to adversity, his mental toughness was forged at PSV, opportunities were limited but it didn’t stop him from learning from the clubs finest: Van Nistelrooy, Luc Nilis and Mateja Kežman. It paid dividends. The last decade seen him morph into a modern predator turned all-rounder (part-playmaker, part-finisher) – adding distinctive traits of the three: Van Nistelrooy’s finishing, Nilis’ ingenuity and Kežman’s fearlessness – every game he cuts an impassive figure, mind focused, void of distraction and feeling every fibre geared for a single purpose. Once that mission is done the child in him escapes but just as quickly his mask goes back up and the cycle starts again.
To say goals is an obsession would be an understatement. It’s compulsive. His one addiction “when you hear it [ball hitting the net] you spend the whole of the next week longing to hear it again,” Huntelaar told UEFA.com. “It’s like the elixir of life.” 
Louis van Gaal, current Oranje boss, described him as the best inside the penalty area “bar none”. But Huntelaar is much more. His all-round game – awareness, vision, movement and link-up play – stands out greater than it has done before. Huntelaar’s natural game centres around an innate ability to score just about every type of goal, often in the most unlikely of situations, whether creating for himself or finishing a team effort – it can be ugly or laced with finesse – his ambidexterity makes it easier as well as being acrobatic and dominant in the air.
The city of Gelsenkirchen, after a two year odyssey in southern Europe, has reinvigorated him. In the bright lights of the Bundesliga [first Dutchman to win the ‘kicker Torjägerkanone’ – top scorer in 2011-12] he’s showing the form that first brought him to widespread attention at Heerenveen then Ajax eight years ago: a ruthless goal-scoring machine that drew comparisons with premier Dutch marksmen of yesteryear including Marco van Basten, who in spite of growing pressure resisted calling him up for a place in his World Cup 2006 squad.
Instead ‘De Hunter’, that summer, went to the U21 European Championships in Portugal where he spearheaded the Dutch to their first title. A few months later Huntelaar made his international debut in Dublin scoring a brace. It would be another seven games before adding to his tally. He’s never looked back since.
His time with Real Madrid and AC Milan respectively is often looked back on as a failure, but in reality he was a victim of circumstance. Huntelaar arrived in Madrid as Bernd Schuster, the manager that wanted him, was leaving. His successor Juande Ramos saw him as an unwanted €27M welcome present. But when push came to shove, true to form, Huntelaar proved his worth in goals: eight in his first five appearances. Florentino Pérez’s return in the summer of 2009 ended a brief six-month stay.
It was no different in Milan the following campaign; manager Leonardo preferring Marco Borriello and Filippo Inzaghi instead, however there were glimpses most notably a stupendous brace in injury time away to Catania and penultimate goal away to Cagliari a fantastic left-footed drive from 20+ yards out, another example faith in him would be rewarded, exactly what Schalke has done.
Felix Magath gave him a platform as well as a supporting cast, Huub Stevens and Jens Keller as well, the latter describing him as “class” (no pun intended). His recent goal against Hertha BSC was his 275th at club level; since his return from a knee injury that robbed him four months of this season, he’s scored 10 times from 13 games played. ‘HunTORlaar’: a befitting moniker.
Another is ‘Hunter der Nation’. Huntelaar, to his credit, at one stage – despite never being considered first choice in six years as an international – was close to breaking Oranje’s all-time goals record held by Patrick Kluivert which Van Persie subsequently broke. However, if we look at goal-to-minute ratio, only the legendary Faas Wilkes (one every 99) betters Huntelaar (one every 101). Van Persie, in comparison, one every 143. But the Manchester United striker ability and dynamism is unquestionable. Van Persie – now skipper – barring an injury should start in their World Cup opener against Spain [June 13]. “No, it doesn’t bother me,” Huntelaar recently told Sp!ts. “Of course I have ambitions, but it is what it is.” 
Van Gaal, not one to admit, subscribes to Johan Cruyff’s ‘conflict model’:  an individual should be encouraged to prove his manager wrong. There’s a player at his disposal – in what could be his last major tournament – determined (who can grab a goal out of nowhere). And that bodes well for Oranje.

 This piece was written by Mohamed Moallim, our resident Dutch expert. Follow him on twitter @jouracule. Comments below please.

Goalscorers don’t sit on benches and neither should Huntelaar

By Mohamed Moallim

It’s reached the point where Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is no longer frustrated; this summer will be his fourth successive tournament with Oranje, under a third different manager, but Huntelaar’s situation remains the same. If not for Robin van Persie he would be the undisputed Dutch ‘number nine’.

Huntelaar or Van Persie intensified during the build up to Euro 2012. It turned into a debate that divided the nation. The former came out on top in every newspaper poll; however the opinion that mattered belonged to then manager Bert van Marwijk, his decision was already made, opting for Van Persie, off the back of a breathless season in England even if Huntelaar matched him stride for stride in Germany.

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A Monument to Losing: The Importance of World Cup Heartbreak

By Zack Goldman

No feeling is more coveted in football than World Cup triumph.

But, is there any one more fascinating—or important—as World Cup heartbreak? 

In any tournament, it’s only natural that the language and tone that we use to discuss the event is elevated and inflated.  This is especially true during the World Cup.  No matter how banal any loss may appear—it’s not just a loss.  It’s billed as a death.

It’s that moment when hearts, full of hope, founder—going down with the wreckage of a cup dream sailing smoothly only breaths earlier.  The moment when thoughts of “oh?” turn to “oh no” and then, emptily, just to “oh.”

That’s not to say achievements in the World Cup are only measured by winning the whole thing—or even winning games at all—but it is to say that there is something deeply sonorous and bleak that comes with being knocked out.

Yet, if one of football—and, indeed, sport’s—truest beauties is that it provides a vehicle for sharing the power of an emotion with others, then the importance of losing is the essence of that virtue more than victory.

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Dutch Fields by Hans van der Meer

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Fat Tuesday and the Paradox of the Post-Season

John Ray reviews yesterday’s matches

It’s a funny paradox: when the season ends there’s just more and more football. I was looking forward to a brief moment of stasis after the weekend’s full slate of friendlies, World Cup qualifiers, and U21 action, but the Americas would just not listen. There were fewer matches, but the ones that occurred had moments of brilliance and absurdity. Let me help you separate the meat from the bone. 

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Jozy plays on

Jozy Altidore was abused with ‘monkey chants’ during AZ Alkmaar’s match by some FC Den Bosch supporters. The game was temporarily suspended for the chants and ice balls being thrown at linesmen but Jozy let it be known that he wanted to continue the game. The match resumed with the American international leading AZ Alkmaar to a 5-0 win. 

(via heavens2betsy) 

Luuk de Jong, Huntelaar and Dost represent the evolution of the Dutch number 9

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It’s strange, in a sort of good way, how a song can remind you of someone, their image instantly etched into your mind. ”The Saints Are Coming” (Green Day/U2 version), is one example, the goal music at De Grolsch Veste – home of FC Twente – now forever associated with Luuk de Jong, largely responsible for many of its airing last season, now plying his trade in Germany he’s hoping for a similar amount of encore performances.

His departure last summer, along with Bas Dost who moved from Heerenveen to Wolfsburg, confirmed the long-held view: one of the Netherlands chief exports is ‘number nines’. Both are the latest in a long line of Dutch strikers, a lineage as decorated as Italian defenders, but what excites most onlookers is not their records (which speaks for itself) but their gradual evolution: getting better, more uncanny in front of goal, both – notably De Jong – determined to be become renowned for scoring in the unlikeliest of situations. Ultimately to attain the title of number nine par excellence.

After conquering the Eredivisie a logical step would be the Bundesliga. A league equally synonymous with great strikers: Gerd Müller, Uwe Seeler, Klaus Fischer and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge to name but a few. Those illustrious figures of the past serve as a inspiration just like compatriots Henk Groot, Willy van der Kuijlen, Marco van Basten and Ruud Geels. On arrival it meant three Dutch numbers 9s in the same foreign league. The other, is already a household name and last season’s Bundesliga golden boot winner – first Dutch striker to do so – Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

As time move so do trends, today for most up-and-coming strikers Huntelaar is their reference. Though the striker many still attempt to emulate is Van Basten still held as a beacon, ultimate example of near perfection, technique and finesse intertwined in unadulterated ruthlessness.

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Buy low and sell high - The nature of the selling club?

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Another year and another transfer window. Throughout the month of January clubs all over Europe frantically try to conduct business, and whilst some gain significant firepower, others lose crucial cogs in their machine. It’s a brutal month for managers and fans alike, but there is a certain type of club that it usually spells doom for: The selling club.

Like a baton that nobody wants, the notion of being a selling club is usually placed on small to midsize provincial sides, which after a short period of sustainability in their domestic league have been deemed ripe for the harvest as larger sides cherry pick the highest performers (it’s also worth noting that any team can be classed as a selling club, but for the sake of continuity we will go with this definition).

There’s an old adage in football that there is no time for sentimentality, and for fans of selling clubs this couldn’t be truer. No sooner has the club shop run out of a player’s name for the back of the replica shirts, the player is subject of a big money move to another club. It’s a harsh reality, but for a term that is usually considered an insult, is it really so bad?

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Frank de Boer’s vision: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

By Mohamed Moallim

Jim Collins, in “Good to Great”, wrote the secret of long-term corporate success lies in cultivating a distinctive set of values. For all the talk of diversity and globalisation, this usually means promoting from within and putting down deep local roots. Boris Groysberg, Harvard Business School, affirms companies are too obsessed with hiring stars rather than developing teams.

Both theorists have an ally in Frank de Boer. The difference is that he’s not concerned with Wall Street but the future of AFC Ajax. In essence the former left-back’s vision, to make the Dutch giants top of the food chain again, is the one perpetuated by Johan Cruyff, who championed De Boer to succeed Martin Jol. The legendary number 14 distinctive management model has been proven a success at FC Barcelona. De Boer is hopeful Ajax can enjoy similar riches. “Whether his vision can lead to a utopia in these times remains to be seen.”

After months of upheaval, the Amsterdam club are now restructuring around Cruyff’s philosophy with him in a new role overseeing the transition. Despite his departure from the board he still pulls the strings. With a historic back-to-back Eredivisie won, all eyes focus on the next phase: making an impact in Europe.

Europe is once again the final frontier. A club rich in tradition, decorated with success on the continent, knows the reality is different from years gone by. To once again conquer they will require luck and in the words of De Boer, “sheer belief”. As well as accelerating the individual development of his players. Their ‘daring’ brand of possession-based football, reminiscent of the period between 1986 and 1997 should hold them in good stead. But they will need to be braver, compact as well as clinical. It might not get them far but it’s a start. A presence in the latter stages of European competition is the first objective of a long-term goal.

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When The Beautiful Game Met America’s National Pastime

By Eric Beard

"He’s been waiting for this moment his entire life. He’s just minutes away from hoisting up the trophy of his dreams. Holland has stayed up all night to watch their beloved Dutch maestro make history. They said it was impossible. Hell, I said it was impossible. Well, we’ve all been proved wrong by Mr. Cruyff. He has been absolutely phenomenal all series and is showing no sign of slowing down. My goodness! I’ve never heard the chants of "Johan" sung quite like this. It’s deafening! And there’s his last warm up pitch. He’s ready to go. Just look at that smile. Folks, it’s the World Series. It’s Game 7. It’s 1-0 in the bottom of the 9th here at Yankee Stadium and you better believe the world is watching…."

When you mention the Ajax team of the late 1960s and early 70s, there’s no denying that geniuses ran rampant throughout Holland and Europe for the better part of a decade. But what if I told you that Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens weren’t born to play the beautiful game? What if I told you that some of Holland’s finest athletes may have wanted the opportunity to pursue a career in another sport they adored?

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