Marco van Basten
Marco van Basten became a household name all over Europe when his 5 goals made him the highest scorer of the 1988 European Championship. His incredible goal in the Final against the Soviet Union is still remembered as one of the finest ever scored. Prior to that remarkable performance, when he was the young scoring sensation at Ajax, van Basten had already been hailed in Holland as a new “Cruijff”. He had been the highest goal scorer in the Dutch competition from 1984-1987. In 1986 he was Europe’s top scorer as well. He went on to become the best striker of his generation at AC Milan and win the European Footballer of the Year award three times, joining Johan Cruijff and Michel Platini as the only men so honoured. There his Milanese teammate, Ruud Gullit, said that van Basten was the hungriest player he had ever seen. Cruijff said he was the bravest. His nickname in Italy was Marco Golo. Although followed closely by Gullit, van Basten had taken over from Maradona as the best player in the world.
Van Basten was born in Utrecht in 1964 into a footballing family. His father, Joop, had played for DOS in the Fifties against, amongst others, one of his son’s future mentors, Rinus Michels. It was in Amsterdam, however, at the world-famous Ajax school, that Marco developed his great talent. There he grew into a teenage star. In 1987, under the coaching of Johan Cruijff, van Basten scored the match winner for Ajax in the Final of the European Cup-winners Cup. His international career was slower in developing as he struggled to gain a starting position. It was only in the 1988 European Championship that he definitely broke through. That tournament also turned out to be pinnacle of his international career. Unfortunately he was never able to repeat his 1988 European Championship performance for the
national team. The physically exhausted van Basten was a disappointment in the 1990 World Cup but his form was back by 1992 in the European Championship in Sweden. On the way to Sweden he became only the fourth Dutchman ever to score five goals in an international match. But Sweden was to be frustrating for van Basten who did not get into the score books despite playing well. One goal of his, against the CIS, was scandalously and inaccurately ruled offside. Later, in the match against Germany, he reminded the world of his tremendous power when he volleyed a cross into the crossbar with such awe-striking force and skill that it almost severed the beam. Luck was not with van Basten either when his penalty was blocked in the shoot-out with Denmark in the Semi-Final. The great tragedy was that unbeknownst to all watching, that this would be one of the last times Marco van Basten would wear the orange colours.
A few months after the 1992 European Championship, shortly after his 28th birthday, van Basten played his last international match. He suffered from terrible ankle injuries which were the result of years of defenders hacking away at his feet, defenders whose focus was to kick him out of the game. Van Basten’s return was premature when after almost a year of injury, Milan insisted he play in the European Cup Final against Marseilles. Van Basten did and Milan paid dearly because he never played again. His injuries had been aggravated and despite numerous surgeries and rumours of an imminent return, he was not getting any better. In 1994 there was even talk of his return to Oranje shortly before the World Cup, but it was not to be. After two years of trying to recover and being in a constant state of pain, Marco van Basten finally hung up the spikes on August 18, 1995. His career had effectively been ended at 27 years of age.
Van Basten was one of Holland’s greatest stars and is probably its greatest football tragedy. He was a player who for five years was considered the world’s best striker and who was cut down in his prime. He will probably be remembered more for the price that is paid for courage and attacking skill than for his many achievements. He is the example of what happens to players who take on the negative and violent tactics of modern defenders. The world was deprived of one its finest ambassadors of football.