giovedì 14 ottobre 2010

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar making critics an endangered species

“If you don’t score, that means you are not playing well.” Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s footballing philosophy is simple; a forward needs to score; always. The striker’s career has seen him live up to his beliefs, thus far, and the last two goals Huntelaar netted bought him level with the legendary Marco van Basten in Holland’s top ten all-time scorers, with 24 goals.

Huntelaar left AC Milan this summer, to join Bundesliga side Schalke 04, and it is a move which appears to have triggered something of a rebirth in the 27-year-old. Since September, the Dutchman has played in 11 games and failed to score in only two. This has been all the more impressive given Schalke’s struggles near the foot of the table.

The striker made his Bundesliga debut at Hoffenheim’s Rhein-Neckar Arena and his Champions League bow against French club Lyon. It was in these two games that Huntelaar failed to find the back of the net, understandable for a player settling in at his new club. However, in the Dutchman’s other appearances, he has been a revelation, scoring five goals in five consecutive games (four in the Bundesliga and one in the Champions League) for Schalke and eight goals in four matches with Holland.

Indeed, the former Ajax hitman has played a vital role in the Tulips’ four wins out of four in Group E of Euro 2012 qualifying. He opened the campaign with a hat-trick against San Marino, and followed this up with a brace against Finland. Next was the winning goal away to Moldova and on Tuesday Huntelaar struck again with two goals in the 4-1 home win over Sweden. Incredibly, the 27-year-old scores one goal every 92 minutes with the Oranje on average.

It is perhaps puzzling therefore that Huntelaar has always failed to impress in the big international tournaments; his supporters point to a lack of opportunities to do so. In 2006, the striker won the Under-21 European Championship with Holland; however, Marco van Basten opted not to take him to the World Cup. “Huntelaar lacks the international experience needed”, said the former AC Milan legend. Two years later, the striker was once again in the shadows, this time looking on as Ruud van Nistelrooy took centre stage at Euro 2008.

Huntelaar’s lot didn’t improve at the recent 2010 World Cup either. Despite having played regularly as a central striker for the first year of Bert van Marwijk’s reign, during Holland’s qualification campaign, he slipped behind Robin van Persie in the pecking order, the Arsenal man becoming the coach’s first choice. An unimpressive season in Serie A with Milan surely didn’t help his case, even if his situation with the Rossoneri wasn’t all of his own making; in Italy Huntelaar saw chances to prove his worth relatively few and far between. His stint with the Italians was not helped by the fact that many at the San Siro always considered the striker a substitute, a player who was only at the club because Milan failed to snare their main summer targets of Edin Dzeko (from Wolfsburg) and Luis Fabiano (from Sevilla).

Back in his native Holland, at Ajax Huntelaar was nicknamed “the Hunter” for his cold-blooded composure in front of goal. His numbers were impressive. Huntelaar was the leading scorer in six competitions: the Under-17 Eredivisie in 2000 with De Graafschap, the Jong Eredivisie in 2001 with PSV Eindhoven, the Eerste Divisie in 2004 with AGOVV, the Eredivisie in 2006 and 2008 with Ajax, and the Under-21 European Championship. With 18 goals in 24 games, Huntelaar is the Dutch Under-21 team’s all-time top goalscorer, quite a feat when so much striking talent has passed through their ranks over the years.

Huntelaar made his professional senior debut in the Dutch second division on 15th August 2003, in a game between AGOVV and Top Oss. It took only nine minutes for the youngster to find the back of the net; it would become a familiar feeling. He enjoyed an impressive debut with Holland too, netting twice against Ireland. Before Huntelaar, the last Dutchman to score a brace on his debut was Dick Nanninga in 1978.

“This is a new chapter in my career”, Huntelaar said recently. “I’m not only talking about Schalke 04, but also about Holland. Real Madrid and AC Milan belong in the past. Regrets? Maybe a few, because I couldn’t show my best. However, I was never afraid to play at big clubs like those. This is the main reason why I didn’t want to leave AC Milan, but when they bought [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic, I understood I had no choice. It took only one day to complete my transfer to Germany. That’s football.”

During his first training session with AGOVV, Jurrie Koolhof, the Eerste Divisie side’s coach at the time, told Huntelaar: “I am not sure you will play every week.” The young striker quickly replied: “I know I’ll do it.” Now Huntelaar seems to have rediscovered this self-confidence and Schalke and Holland will benefit all the more for it.

Fonte: Inside Futbol

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