There are not many strikers who get to play for Ajax and Barcelona and represent their country at the Euros and the World Cup. But Patrick Kluivert was no ordinary striker. He was one of the best Dutch attackers of all time and has seen and done it all in his glittering career.
During his six year spell with the Spanish giants he won the La Liga championship in 1999 and scored 124 goals from 249 appearances in all. The former Dutch star was also part of Ajax’s Golden Generation of the 1990s winning the Eredivisie twice and the UEFA Champions League in 1994–95.
With the Qatar World Cup just weeks away, Kluivert – currently in Dubai to promote the 11th edition of the Beach Soccer Intercontinental Cup Dubai 2022 – said he felt his country has a good chance. “First we must tackle the group, and it is a hard group, and then we need to take it step by step from there. We have been drawn with the host nation Qatar who will have lots of local support but also Senegal are there and that will be a very hard match,” says the 46-year-old.
Most have tipped the Netherlands to win their first game which is against Senegal but Kluivert says it won’t be that easy. “They have a quality team with the likes of Mane and Koulibaly, and remember they are champions of Africa too. We need to respect them as they are a very big opponent and I think it will be a very spicy match! We need to make sure we prepare well.”
Coach Louis Van Gaal will make sure his side is ready for the tournament which will interrupt domestic league seasons all over the world. In fact, this year’s tournament will mark the first time that the global showpiece has been held in the Middle East. FIFA had to move the staging of the competition from its traditional timing of June and July to November and December, allowing for the tournament to be played when temperatures are considerably cooler in the host nation. “The tournament itself will be a huge success. I know the people of Qatar and the organizing committees and I know it will be a perfect event and an eye opener to everyone in the world.”
However, Kluivert - who scored 40 times making him the third highest top goalscorer for the Netherlands - feels some teams could struggle due to a lack of preparation time. “I think it could affect the quality of the players but they need to prepare properly because this is the World Cup and there can be no excuses.”
The Netherlands have appeared in the 1934, 1938, 1974, 1978, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2006, 2010, 2014 World Cups and hold the record for reaching the most finals without winning the trophy. But with the likes of Virgil Van Dijk, Frenkie de Jong, Memphis Depay, Steven Bergwijn and Cody Gakpo they have a good chance of finally bringing the famous trophy home. “The most important thing is to survive the group and then take each game as it comes,” says Kluivert. “You don’t know who you are facing in the last 16 so can’t really prepare and you can’t afford to look too far ahead in the tournament.”
Erling Haaland has made the news following his explosive start to life at Manchester City and Kluivert has been very impressed with his fellow striker. Sadly, Haaland will not be at the World Cup as his country Norway failed to qualify but had they made it, Kluivert feels they would have gone far thanks to the hot-shot. “He is ridiculously good,” he laughs.
“He has just scored three consecutive hat-tricks and is setting all sorts of records for City. And he is just 22-years-old and he will only continue to get better. He is doing a fantastic job but it is important to keep the consistency going. Right now everyone is talking about him but he will need to do it at the top level year after year like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have done throughout their careers.”
Speaking of Ronaldo and Messi it looks likely that this will be their last appearances at the showpiece of football and the pair could have a huge say. “In a big tournament like this they know it is time to shine and they switch on", says Kluivert, named in the FIFA 100 list of the greatest living footballers chosen by Pelé. “They have good players around them too but I think Brazil is very strong. If you look at the individual players that they have and the way that they play and the experience that they have – they are ready to fire! It will be very interesting to see what everyone is going to do in the World Cup. But I think the three teams to look out for will be Brazil, Argentina and Netherlands.”
England made it to the semi-final of the 2018 tournament and although they have struggled for form of late with the pressure mounting on coach Gareth Southgate, Kluivert believes there is a nucleus of a good team there. “If you look at the squad they have fantastic individual players but can play as team? That is the big question.”
Premier League coach
The former Newcastle United man says he loved his time in the English Premier League and has aspirations to one day manage at the top level. “I would love to coach in the Premier League, I just need to be given a chance. I have all of my coaching badges and I just need an opportunity.”
The Premier League may indeed come calling with several former players making the step up into management but what kind of style would he like his teams to play? “I have a vision and a system in my head. I have played for Ajax and Barcelona and I would adopt a similar style as these teams. I would like my teams to play in an aggressive way, and be offensive – I prefer to win 4-3 than 1-0.”
He says he would also love to manage a club in the UAE Pro League. “I love the UAE, I am very happy to be here. Whenever I come here I am well received. I am looking for a good opportunity to coach and perhaps it is here in Dubai, you never know.”
The Netherlands face Senegal on November 21 then Ecuador four days later and then a clash against hosts Qatar on November 29.