Johan Cruijff’s unprecedented achievements with Ajax and the national team has resulted in all players, especially the strikers, being compared to him. Journalists, both in Holland and abroad, often speak of the heir to Cruijff or the new Cruijff. The first to successfully maintain this honorary title was Marco van Basten. Then there was Dennis Bergkamp and today pundits speak of Kluivert being the next to walk in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessor. It is a heavy burden to live up to such reputations and expectations, but Patrick Kluivert appears poised to be up to the task of being the next great star to emerge from the Ajax school.
Born in Amsterdam in 1976 to Surinamse parents, Kluivert grew up during the revival of Ajax in the late Eighties. His football talent as a youngster was so obvious that he began at the Ajax school before he was ten years old. There he was trained and forged into a quintessential Ajax striker, learned in all that was implicated in the Ajax concept and tactics. By the tender age of seventeen, the trainer, Louis van Gaal,
made Patrick Kluivert a regular player on the first team of the Amsterdam club. Despite his youthful years and his lack of experience, Kluivert showed immense skill and a nose for goals. The Dutch media heaped praise upon the player and the new heir to Cruijff was in the making. Fortunately for him, however, he was not isolated by his age. Kluivert was simply the most gifted of a new wave of gifted teenagers to emerge from the Ajax school at that time. This included Clarence Seedorf, Edgar Davids and Michael Reiziger.
As Kluivert was demoralising defences with his surgical finishing touch in both the national competition and the European Champions League, it was obvious that he was earning his right to come out for his country. Naturally, before long, Oranje came knocking. Kluivert’s Oranje career began as well as one could hope for a seventeen year old. Aside from by the youngest ever player to bear the orange jersey, Kluivert was also its youngest ever goal scorer. Kluivert’s reputation, however, was mostly limited to Holland in 1995 although his Champions League goals gave him some international recognition. But in June of that year, his name was on the lips of every football fan around the world. Ajax had made it to the Final of the prestigious Champions League. There they faced European football powerhouse, AC Milan. Although Ajax had already defeated the Italians twice in the first round, many still considered the young upstarts from Amsterdam as underdogs. The match ended
dramatically when in the closing minutes the prodigy of Ajax scored sensationally after being set up by Frank Rijkaard. Kluivert’s emotional celebration run was blasted all over the world. A new international football star was born.
The burden of expectation was much heavier for Kluivert after his sensational strike against Milan. Soon he faced huge personal problems after a man was killed when his car was hit by Kluivert’s. A trial followed which led to a turbulent year for the young player, but he seemed to recover. Kluivert still wanted to really prove himself for Oranje. Something he accomplished with great style. In December 1995, the national team traveled to Liverpool to battle Ireland in the play-off for the last place in Euro 96. The match proved to be Kluivert’s big breakthrough on the national team. His two goals at Anfield Road were both sensational and he had sent Holland to its fifth tournament in a row. The Irish could not believe that a teenager could inflict so much damage upon them. Euro 96 was tough for Kluivert as his battle against injury put his fitness into question during the whole tournament. His role was still crucial, however, because he scored the goal against all odds that sent Holland through to the Quarter-Final despite losing to England.
As far as these things are predictable, Kluivert is clearly the next great Dutch striker and the future will certainly hold a big role for him. Like Marc Overmars, Patrick Kluivert’s story is yet to be written but he is well under way to becoming one of the greats.