When Dirk Kuyt burst onto the scene at Feyenoord, becoming the clubs top scorer in three consecutive seasons, many dubbed him to be Holland’s next prolific goal scorer, and as a potential replacement for Ruud Van Nistelrooy, so at first glance, his goal scoring record of 24 goals in 104 caps suggests that his international career was a disappointment. However, what Dirk Kuyt contributed to the Oranje over 10 years is worth so much more than just goals, and his three last major tournaments for the Dutch side epitomised this writes Fin Crebolder.
During the build up to the 2010 World Cup, there were calls for Dirk Kuyt to be replaced by the more skillfull and pacey winger Eljero Elia. Even after the first game, where Kuyt got himself a goal, calls still persisted for Elia to get the nod. However, as the tournament went on, despite the likes of Sneijder and Robben gaining plaudits, Kuyt was equally as crucial in the Oranje reaching the final. Whilst Robben was bombarding forward on the opposite wing, Kuyt was tirelessly tracking back in every match. In the build up to the quarter final against Brazil, many people pinpointed Maicon, the right back for Brazil, as one of their danger men. He had already scored at the tournament, and was proving to be a huge attacking threat for Brazil in every game. However, throughout the quarter final, Kuyt tracked Maicon and prevented him from making any sort of impact. This performance drew praise from Dutch legend, Johan Cruyff;
“Not only did he keep Maicon out of the game, he also set up the winner. Someone like that is worth his weight in gold.”
In the semi-final against Uruguay, after setting up Robben with a fantastic cross for the Bayern Munich winger to make it 3-1, he also made a crucial last ditch block in stoppage time with the scores at 3-2 to secure The Netherlands passage to their third World Cup Final. Despite the fact that they lost the final, Kuyt had shown fantastic work-ethic throughout to help get them there.
Going into Euro 2012, The Netherlands were one of the pre-tournament favourites to lift the trophy. Due to the strong depth of the squad, some star players were set to miss out on the starting line-up. These players were Huntelaar, Van der Vaart and Kuyt, who lost their places to Van Persie, De Jong and Afellay respectively. After the first game, a 1-0 loss to Denmark, Van der Vaart and Huntelaar started to kick up a fuss about not starting. This set the tone for the rest of the Oranje’s short tournament, as team morale got worse on and off the pitch. However, among the disharmony in the Dutch Camp, Dirk Kuyt did not complain once about being dropped from the team, even after being an undisputed starter during the qualifying campaign. Instead, he put his personal issues to one side and tried, along with Wesley Sneijder, to keep the morale in the camp high, for the good of the team, and this is probably a large factor as to why, when Van Gaal took over, he was made vice-captain, with Sneijder as captain. Despite the fact that he was unable to contribute on the pitch during this tournament, Kuyt displayed admirable selflessness that not many Dutch players have been known for showing.
Many people had forgotten about Dirk Kuyt going into the 2014 World Cup, due to his age and Van Gaal’s preference to play the younger players. However, after it was revealed that The Netherlands would play 5-3-2 at the World Cup, reports emerged that Dirk Kuyt had started training in the first XI as a wing back, and he even earned the nickname “Dirk Alba” from his teammates. After not playing a part in the first two games, Kuyt was deployed in the left wing-back against Chile. It was the first time in his career that he played in this position, but if you were watching him play for the first time, you would’ve thought that it was his natural position. He looked composed, organised and assured in the role, and compensated for his lack of pace with excellent positioning time and time again. In his 100th cap, the last 16 clash against Mexico, he started off at right wing back, before moving over to left wing back for the second half, and when the team were 1-0 down with 10 minutes left, Van Gaal put Kuyt up front to provide an aerial threat. This worked, as Kuyt won the corner which resulted in Sneijder’s last ditch equaliser. Kuyt retained his role as a wingback in the games against Costa Rica and Argentina, rarely putting a foot wrong, and in both penalty shoot-outs, he calmly slotted his away. After going into the World Cup as an almost forgotten man, he emerged as one of the Oranje’s key players, showing excellent willingness and versatility to help the young side reach the Semi-Finals.
Whilst many Dutch players have been accused of putting themselves ahead of the team, Kuyt has always put the interests of the team ahead of his own, whether that is by trying to keep team morale up even after being, somewhat unfairly, dropped, or sacrificing his attacking qualities in order to help a young teams defensive problems. So no, he won’t be mentioned alongside the likes of Cruyff, Van Basten and Bergkamp when people are discussing Dutch greats, but whilst he may not possess the technique, skill or flair of these players, the simple fact is, there never has been, and in my opinion, never will be again, a Dutchman that is so hard-working, selfless and versatile, and for that reason, Dirk Kuyt is in a league of his own.
Click on Fin’s name above to follow him on Twitter.