The Dutch have a rich reputation for producing complete footballers. Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard are just a few names that spring to mind. These innovative and silky on the eye players have defined Dutch football over recent decades. Dirk Kuyt is a player that clashes with this trend. He has made a career as a hard-working player who earns his accolades the hard way, openly stating himself that he is a player with the primary role of supporting his teammates. Rafael Benitez would affectionately refer to him as ‘Mr. Duracell’, referencing his endless running.
Kuyt was quickly heralded as a poacher with lethal instinct as well as a player who tracked back vigorously as a striker, a trait priceless to any manager.
The qualifying campaign for the 2006 World Cup began with a shift in the Dutch national teams’ attacking options. Marco van Basten’s appointment as national team manager commenced with the dimming out of Patrick Kluivert. Dirk Kuyt would be the man to fill the void as he introduced himself in September 2004 against Liechtenstein, fresh from a previous season that saw him tally up 20 goals for Feyenoord.
He would sign for Liverpool in the summer of 2006, warranting a fee of nine-million pounds to Feyenoord. Kuyt would go on to score 71 goals for Liverpool in 286 games.
The knack of being in the right place at the right time is a commodity in the world of attackers that is worth its weight gold. A brief viewing of the seemingly endless number of goals to Kuyt’s name reveals the staggering number of rebounded shots that he has hammered home over the years; a prime reflection of his ability to occupy the right spaces on the pitch in addition to unrivalled precision and technique.
Kuyt’s application on the pitch often goes unnoticed. It is not by sheer luck that he finds himself in these fruitful positions. Behind these poacher goals is a tireless work ethic that allows him to occupy these spaces.
The prime example of this was on the biggest of stages – Manchester United at Anfield. All the talk before the game was about fellow Eredivisie export and Liverpool attacker Luis Suarez. Although it would be Kuyt that stole the headlines, scoring a hat-trick that couldn’t have been from more than ten yards out if you combined the distances all three goals were scored from. Ninety minutes of football that epitomised Dirk Kuyt.
Academy coaches constantly tell players from a young age, if you get yourself into dangerous positions, the goals will follow. It is a skill that can only be taught to those with the correct attitude and hunger, both of which Kuyt had in abundance.
As football has progressed through the years, the idea that all players on the pitch should contribute to both the attacking and defensive phases of the game has become common opinion.
Few clubs outside the European places in most top leagues can afford to have any passengers, especially in attack. As so widely preached, attack is the first line of defence, and Dirk Kuyt is the epitome of the defending attacker.
In addition to his plaudits received on the pitch, Kuyt carved a reputation as a cult hero at all of the clubs he has played for. Although his work ethic and willingness to put himself about for the team are automatically attractive qualities in the eyes of fans, it is his loyalty and dedication to the badge on the front of the shirt that sets him apart.
The late Johan Cruyff said in 2014 about Kuyt: “You’re blessed when you’ve got someone like him”. A stamp of approval from the godfather of Dutch football himself.
Upon securing his big money move to Liverpool, Kuyt made a point during the negotiations to ensure his boyhood club, Quick Boys, received a sizeable chunk of the money. A welcomed gesture to the club that he had represented from the age of five until eighteen.
Already adored at Anfield, three successful years in Turkey would see him become a Fenerbahce fan favourite, culminating in a return to his homeland and the city of Rotterdam where his legacy is etched in the hearts of many.
Upon returning for his second spell at Feyenoord in 2015, Kuyt helped lead his team to its first Eredivisie title since 1999 in his second season. In the final game of the season he would score another career hat-trick. Three days later he would announce his retirement from football, leaving on the highest of highs.
The man who was always first on the team sheet and had the final say on the score sheet, Dirk Kuyt can proudly reflect on a career that reached over a centenary of international appearances, lifting a number of trophies along the way and entering the goal-scoring record books of all the clubs he played for.