The cooling down: King and Kaptain of De Kuip – Kuyt is back
For players who have spent years playing under immense pressure at a high level in Europe, it must be a somewhat pleasant relief when it comes to making that final move as they near the end of their career. Still looking to make use of their talents but hoping to step out of the limelight into a more relaxed and lower-profile league, it’s no surprise that many big players see the money and relatively easy life on offer in the Middle East, China and United States and take a kind of semi-retirement. Basking in the glory and worship of adoring fans, less pressure and becoming a key man in an exciting new project all in exchange for big money and good weather – the choice does not seem tough.
Xavi, Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo and Steven Gerrard have all gone that way this summer, but for former Champions League finalist, Liverpool star and Netherlands international Dirk Kuyt, there was no chance of him taking that step to a more serene environment.
Having thrived in the unforgiving and intense surroundings at Anfield and Fenerbahce, the 35-year-old’s dream was always to return to Rotterdam, where he was once King, to feature again for Feyenoord – one of the most demanding clubs in the Netherlands.
While Kuyt spent more time at FC Utrecht (five years) and Liverpool (six years) than he did at Feyenoord, it was in Rotterdam he was most revered and respected. It is the club he has the strongest association with, despite it being the only one he failed to win a trophy with.
Still, Kuyt’s return had long been expected and when it was confirmed in April, it was unanimously viewed as an excellent piece of business by Feyenoord and a great step for him.
The versatile player joined on a one season deal, adding: “But my intention is to have five years in the Feyenoord shirt,” a delightful target that sounds so typically Kuyt and which no one could possibly rule out at this point. Even Martin van Geel was quick to suggest he could be there for the long-term: “We have signed a contract for a year, but that says nothing about the intention of both parties. Dirk may have years ahead of him here. He is the Ryan Giggs of Feyenoord.”
It may seem sensationalist to compare a man who only spent three years at the club to a one-team icon of Manchester United, but it hints at the bond and respect between the two parties.
While Ajax’s search for an experienced former player led them to John Heitinga to add to their youthful team, the former Everton centre-back, who has not featured in their three competitive games so far, seems to be there to operate more as a cheerleader and a guiding figure for team-mates.
In contrast, Kuyt is clearly going to be a crucial part of Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s team and it is already evident that he offers a huge amount to the squad in many different aspects.
He may be in his final stretch as a professional, but he is still the unbelievably hard working player fans across Europe have admired him as for years. In his first Eredivisie game back at De Kuip, the winger/striker/wing-back/Champions League runner-up/World Cup silver and bronze medallist covered more ground than all but one player. So often is the word used in relation to him, his name should be listed as a synonym for “workhorse” in the thesaurus.
As was also evident in pre-season, Kuyt, playing on the wing in support of striker Colin Kazim-Richards in Saturday night’s 3-2 win over Utrecht, gives Feyenoord more substance up front and he has an unavoidable presence on the field. His awareness, eagerness to press, constant communication, discipline, adherence to the team’s shape and determination to win every ball already shows how much of a leader and role model he is for a squad which has many young talents in its ranks. When 20-year-old Tonny Vilhena, who came under fire for a dire 2014-15 campaign, threatened to leave and whose future at the club is still very much in jeopardy, scored to make it 2-1, Kuyt rushed over to praise and encourage him even more during the celebrations.
“This is fantastic for him. Not only his goal, but it’s nice to see his work ethic as well,” he said of his young team-mate, another example of the relentless positivity he has shown ever since his return. He even expressed solidarity with young Rick Karsdorp, who was dismissed during the game: “It’s a great learning experience for him. But we have not abandoned him and this victory is also for him.”
This is not a man who has returned home to revel in praise and unconditional love from fans and media while contributing the bare minimum. He is determined to lift the level of the team as much as the spirit – a boost to both of which is required this season following a disappointing fourth placed finish and lack of European football.
“I just want to win,” he remarked on Saturday, a strong desire which comes with a dogged approach that would perhaps otherwise be missing from this team following the loss of Jordy Clasie this summer.
When he slotted home the late penalty to make it 3-1, which proved decisive as Sebastien Haller netted at the other end in the final minute, it seemed like a wonderfully poetic moment.
His first Eredivisie goal for Feyenoord back in September 2003 came via a penalty. While he will not match the 20 league goals he finished that season with, there is little doubt that he is going to thrive in the ferocious and iconic stadium once again.
King Kuyt is back and it’s wonderful.
Racism clouds glorious Gyasi return
Sadly, there was one despicable scene which arose at the end of Roda JC’s 3-1 win over Heracles. The joyous occasion for the newly promoted Kerkrade team was marred when their player Edwin Gyasi, who scored his side’s first goal, became the subject of racist abuse after the final whistle. The Almelo fans allegedly directed monkey noises towards the 24-year-old former Heracles player, who hit back by sticking both middle fingers up. We’ve already seen a similar case like it this season in Russia, where Emmanuel Frimpong retaliated to racist chants in the same way. Sadly, in the Ufa player’s case, he was the only party punished as he received a red card and a further suspension while the governing body insisted there was no evidence of any abuse.
One would hope that the KNVB have enough sense to stand on the side of Gyasi in this instance because there must be no place for victim blaming when it comes to tackling these issues. Voetbal International already ran an insensitive headline claiming that it was Gyasi who had spoiled the occasion and not the fans, something they soon rectified and apologised for. They should be commended for acknowledging the mistake, but that they immediately jumped to that angle is quite worrying. Of course players suffer the wrath of fans all the time, but when they are relentlessly dehumanised with such horrific chants because of the colour of their skin, it’s misguided to demand that they remain “professional” and ignore it, it’s ignorant to tell them they have no right to show or even feel any anger and it’s absolutely horrific to punish them for it. There is one issue that must be dealt with in this incident by the KNVB and it’s not the flashing of fingers from Gyasi.
Goals, goals, goals
On to brighter news… the opening two days of the campaign brought us many goals, with 14 being scored across the four games, and there were some absolute crackers in amongst them. Anwar El Ghazi got his goal of the season contender in early with a delectable strike from about 25 yards to open the scoring in Ajax’s 3-0 win over AZ, then team-mate Nemanja Gudelj also blasted one past his former from a similar distance. Tonny Vilhena burst into the box to meet a sweet Karim El Ahmadi cross and slot it home with a deft first touch, thus rounding off a fine move which he started and hopefully kicking off a brighter campaign for him than last year. Also, Hicham Faik of Roda killed off his side’s game with a sweet strike from the edge of the area after Ilias Bel Hassani had done so for the opposition in the first half.
We’ve only just begun
At the time of writing we are not even half way through the first round of fixtures of the new season. The police strikes across the nation forced the remaining fixtures to be moved to Tuesday and Wednesday. Reigning champions PSV begin their title defence away to ADO Den Haag on Tuesday night before Heerenveen take on newly promoted De Graafschap. The following day KNVB Beker champions FC Groningen will face FC Twente, then PEC Zwolle will meet Cambuur before Eerste Divisie winners NEC welcome Excelsior to the Goffertstadion.
Eredivisie Week 1
Roda JC Kerkrade 3 – 1 Heracles Almelo
Feyenoord 3 – 2 FC Utrecht
AZ 0 – 3 Ajax
Willem II 1 – 1 Vitesse