By Chris Stonadge
Being a professional footballer is a short-term profession. But as a fan there just seems to be some players that last forever.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is certainly one of those, and as an avid Footy Manager fan I remember his golden days especially well.
Banging them in left, right and centre for Ajax, Schalke and Real Madrid, he was one of Europe’s most lethal marksmen.
Substituted on at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium in Ajax’s 1–0 victory, in a glittering performance from de Godenzonen, Huntelaar triggered memories of his incredible times in the mid-noughties when he arrived on the hallowed turf in the dying minutes. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought he’d retired!
Huntelaar began his career as a graduate of Ajax’s title rivals PSV Eindhoven, making his debut for Boeren against RBC Roosendaal in 2002, replacing Chelsea-bound Matija Kezman from the bench as PSV ran out 3–0 winners. However this would be both his first and last appearance for them.
Following loan spells with De Graafschap and AGOVV, Huntelaar first came to the fore in Dutch football at SC Heerenveen. He helped the Friesland side to UEFA Cup qualification in 2006 when he smashed 17 goals in 31 Eredivisie matches.
And that is where Ajax came in. His boyhood club where he grew up watching legends such as Frank Rijkaard, Frank De Boer, Marc Overmars and Edwin van der Sar achieve the astonishing feat of Champions League victory in 1995 over A.C. Milan.
With the game heading to a close, Patrick Kluivert netted the winner as Louis van Gaal’s side nicked their fourth European Cup title. Huntelaar was 12 at the time.
Childhood dreams realised for Klaas and Heerenveen received £8m, a hefty fee at the time for an unproven wonderkid. Ajax wouldn’t have to wait long though for every penny to be repaid. Goal after goal for three marvelous years saw Huntelaar finish with 105 goals in 136 matches, an average of 0.77 goals per game. Simply breathtaking stats.
Huntelaar became hunted in January 2009, with Galactico giants Real Madrid looking for their latest recruit. Still aged just 25 with 144 career goals already, he looked the ready-made replacement for the ageing Raul. He was priced at 28m Euros.
It didn’t go to plan for the Dutchman though. Scoring just eight in 20 La Liga matches, before being shipped to another European giant. I Rossoneri, A.C. Milan.
Once again the pressure of such a giant club outside of his homeland didn’t translate into goals for Huntelaar, only scoring seven before signing for Schalke. Here he recaptured his late-Noughties Ajax form. In a period which saw Schalke reach the Champions League Semi-Final, the Dutchman bagged 126 goals in 240 games, once again more than a goal every other game.
And to complete his career in a full circle (well, -ish) he returned back to his boyhood club where he remains today as a key player. Since returning to the Johan Cruyff Arena, Huntelaar has hit 33 in 72 matches, which frankly, for a footballing pensioner, is nothing short of excellent.
Now all caught up on his career and his excellent CV, there are two noticeable trophies for Huntelaar which he fails to list among his many honours.
The World Cup, which he came so close to winning in 2010 with the Netherlands. The Dutch lost out 1–0 to an Andres Iniesta finish in which Huntelaar was left an unused substitute.
And the other would be the UEFA Champions League. How ironic, as the man will come as close as he will ever come this year with Ajax. Huntelaar played a massive role in getting Ajax to the Champions league last season, and alongside the amazing young talent at their disposal is defying all the odds to reach the final in Madrid.
As Ajax take a 1–0 lead back to the Johan Cruyff ArenA against an inexperienced Tottenham team at this level, it remains to be seen the role that Huntelaar will play on the field. Off the field though, the veteran striker will certainly play a huge part in a huge night for them.
Guiding young skipper Matthijs de Ligt, although the 19 year old seems to have a great head on his shoulders, will be a role which senior players, like Huntelaar, Daley Blind and Lasse Schone, have to take on board considering the situation. I’m sure he will draw on all of his well-gained experience to do whatever he can to get Ajax through.
Form is temporary. Klaas is permanent.