I sat pondering different subjects to write about in this weekly column – Coutinho’s new role, Mignolet’s heroics, Sturridge’s revival, the cup-final-esque top-four conclusion etc. Then the news broke.
Dirk Kuyt has confirmed he’ll retire from professional football at the end of the season. I never thought the day would arise to be honest. He doesn’t seem to age – even at thirty-seven, he’s scoring hat-tricks for Feyenoord to seal their first Eredivisie Title in eighteen years. Eredivisie League or not. A hat-trick at thirty-seven – what a legend, a big game player, regardless of age. Anyway his decision made my mind up, very easily. How can I not write about the loveable, working-class Dutchman after hearing such news.
Here goes – I’ll try to stray from getting soppy. (No promises).
Purchased by another beautiful human being – Rafa Benitez. No surprise either, he’d scored seventy-one goals in a hundred and one appearances in his past three-years at Feyenoord. Looking back, I know ten-million is still a fair bit of money, but imagine getting a Kuyt-type in return for that sort of investment these days. Every team would improve with a Kuyt player in and around it. Fact.
A player who had the cult-like-status surrounding him after only a few games in – a huge feat considering expectations were sky-high after a certain Champions League comeback in 2005. We wanted reliable. We wanted a skilful-tactician. We wanted a fan-favourite. In hindsight – that’s exactly what we got. In fact, talking of AC Milan and finals. Kuyt actually scored a late consolation goal in the not-so famous final of 2007.
A sign of his big-game tenacity. His first touch was often scruffy and unforgiving early on, but his attitude, guile, fortitude, endurance, resilience and pure heart, meant that it was inevitable he’d spark up a mutual romance with Liverpool fans. (Don’t know about you, but when I think of Kuyt, I instantly coincide memories of significant games – Champions League, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, even played a pivotal-role and turned the tide the last time we lifted a trophy in 2012).
Really in-touch with the fans – often walking from pillar to post at full-time to thank fans for their support. How grateful. How gracious. Apparently the last man to leave the on-pitch-celebrations after our League Cup success in 2012. A man of the people. A professional socialite.
Forest Gump’s; “One day I just woke up and felt like running”, seemed to be Kuyt’s pre-match mindset. Every game. 110%. Never. Any. Less. So committed. And we, as fans, loved it. He epitomised what respecting the shirt on your back means – that’s respect, that’s understanding what fans crave, that’s Kuyt – a player whose passion could match any fan sat in the Anfield crowd. (Soppy alert – it’s brewing).
He was part of one of the greatest Liverpool teams of modern times. Kuyt, Gerrard, Torres, Alonso, Mascherano, Carragher, Reina. Yet he still stood out – he wasn’t commanding like Gerrard, he wasn’t flamboyant like Torres, or pulling the strings like Alonso. However he had his own brand of football – he was the work-horse of the team, willing to push the boundaries of fitness, chase everything, tackle anything, get stuck into every game as if his life solely depended on it. Don’t overlook him as part of that luxurious team – he very much was an influential piece of the puzzle. He was an adopted Scouser or “Scouse b*****d”, as he’d be proud to read. (I remember making it my weekend ritual to have – Kuyt to score first and a Liverpool win betting slip scrunched up in my pocket, in the pub. So occasionally the drinks were literally on Kuyt).
He was the kind of striker/wide-man/attacking midfielder/play-him-where-you-want player that could score goals of all types. To be honest, his first goal for us pretty much summed him up perfectly. Xabi Alonso slots a wide ball out to Steve Finnan, who whips it into Kuyt’s range and a gutsy, strong poke home. A typical finish. That’s how all scruffy prodded goals should be preferred as – the Kuyt-finish. Not that I’m saying he lacked ability to score a more established goal. He’d score the right-place, right-time goals. The chest it and volley goals. The headed-flick-on goals. The pop-up out of nowhere goals. The jaw-dropping Gerrard-esque goals. He was a penalty-area assassin. Not a goal-hanger type – he’d work his socks off and earn every goal he got.
A man of the moment – I loved writing this and going back to rewatch his Liverpool goal compilations on YouTube. (Go do it, go do it now. Your mind will flood back with all the emotions and nostalgia his goals used to bring. Thank me later. Enjoy). A few of my personal favourites; the Champions League goals against Arsenal and Chelsea in 2007/08 – the Arsenal one a typical Kuyt-goal. The winning penalty against Chelsea and Mourinho’s face after. All of his penalties against Everton. The absolute rocket against Tottenham from an impossible angle. That volley versus Inter Milan.
The mazy run against West Brom and classy strike. The Manchester United hat-trick – the only Liverpool player ever to do so. (What a day that was – the drinks were on Kuyt that day. I was actually quids-in purely because he tapped in what would’ve been one of Luis Suarez’s greatest ever goals). I loved his goal against Cardiff while we was looking failure straight in the eye during extra time – that goal had Kuyt written all over it. Big game. Big moment. Big balls. Big goal – with silverware at stake. Could do with that these days. The thought of a prime Kuyt grafting his trade under the influence of Klopp and Buvac is a sensational one. Imagine. Gegenpressing – Dirk style. Indulge in thought Reds.
In his six-year time at Liverpool he scored seventy-one goals in six seasons – five of those six hitting double figures in all competitions. Not too shabby eh. Fifteen goals his personal best, which he achieved in two seasons – including that 2008/09 season where Liverpool came in touching distance of the Premier League title. An incredible stat over his career – since the start of his professional debut in 1998/99 he’s only not reached double figures twice – in all competitions. He once scored thirty-six goals in a single season in 2004/05 at Feyenoord. Sweet Jesus. A fruitful career that’s spanned nearly twenty-years – he’s scored two-hundred and ninety-five goals in seven-hundred and ninety-eight appearances.
Kuyt left Liverpool in 2012 for an outrageous one-million pounds – the less said about that the better. Ridiculous. Wish we’d off kept him on longer or at least got his true worth in terms of transfer fee but that’s football I suppose and it’s makes me happy to see what he’s achieved at his beloved Feyenoord since leaving. Winning the Eredivisie Title after an eighteen-year drought. Celebrating in-front of thousands and thousands of fans and orchestrating a city strong sing-along of “you’ll never walk alone” – a fitting end to a classy, humble and genuine footballer. Adored wherever he laid his hat. A cult-hero of Liverpool Football Club and a personal favourite of mine growing up.
A true gentleman of the game.
Thanks for the memories Dirk.
Enjoy your retirement you Dutch Scouser.
Written by Ben Webb