Over a professional career spanning 18 years, Dutch striker Pierre van Hooijdonk scored 349 goals in 597 games, including internationals. Known for his spectacular free kicks, Van Hooijdonk played in five different countries (Holland, Scotland, England, Portugal and Turkey). The hitman was was the leading scorer in three competitions – the Scottish Premier League in 1996, the Eredivisie in 2002 and the UEFA Cup in the same year. Van Hooijdonk is considered an icon by Feyenoord fans, who dedicated a song to him titled “Put your hands up for Pi-Air” that hit the national charts in 2002. Now the 40-year-old Van Hooijdonk is an ambassador for the Holland-Belgium 2018 World Cup bid and in his free time still plays the game with hometown amateur side VV Steenbergen.
Inside Futbol’s Alec Cordolcini caught up with him in Rotterdam for a chat:
AC: Do you consider winning the UEFA Cup with Feyenoord in 2002 the high point of your career?
PvH: Yes, of course.
AC: That was the last time a Dutch side have lifted a European trophy. In your opinion, what are the reasons for the lack of competitiveness we’ve seen from Dutch sides in Europe in recent seasons?
PvH: The most decisive factor these days is money. The Netherlands have talent and will continue producing the talent. But the bigger clubs in Europe are far more attractive for young players because they have more money and as a result of that they play in the Champions League. For any young Dutch player, the major challenge is to go abroad. If you look at the big national teams that do well in the World Cup, you find that many of the players play for the big European clubs in key positions. Unfortunately, there is no way we can keep them in our country.
AC: Is that all though?
PvH: Well, another factor is the physical side of the game which is sometimes underestimated in the Netherlands. The game has become more and more physical and we should be prepared [for that]. All in all however, I still believe Dutch clubs could occasionally rise and reach the final stages of the Champions League or Europa League.
AC: You won the Super Lig twice with Fenerbahce. Can we compare the level of the Turkish league with the Dutch Eredivisie?
PvH: Not really. To be honest, I think the Turkish league is stronger these days because there is more money available. Just look at the names of the players who have been signed by Turkish clubs recently. Unfortunately, none of the Dutch clubs have that kind of money at the moment.
AC: How was your experience with Fenerbahce?
PvH: In Turkey I had a great time, and I’m not talking just about the football! Istanbul is a modern city that offers a fascinating mixture of western and eastern culture. You can find everything there: shops, restaurants, museums, nice people and a hot climate. I was 33 when I went to Turkey, and I enjoyed my experience in a very different way to when I was in Scotland at 25. A better way, I think.
AC: You also learned Turkish didn’t you?
PvH: Yes, I took lessons when I lived there. For me it has always been very important to be able to communicate with everyone.
AC: Talking about communication, Jose Mourinho is a real master at that, and you worked with him at Benfica. What were your impressions of Mourinho?
PvH: I only worked with Mourinho for a very short time, but I still have a good relationship with him. Despite all the criticism [he has received], he has remained the same person, with the same character, going his own way. He is imperturbable and will follow his own plan. He’s not likely to be distracted by what other people say or write about him.
AC: You were, undisputedly, a free kick master. Is there any player today whose style of kick can be compared with yours?
PvH: Even if I think hard, I cannot find a name in modern football that kicks the ball in a similar way. I think the main reason is that in my time the balls were slightly different and you could hit them in such a way that they went in the goal the way they went. But, I practised a lot to get it right. Modern balls do not allow players to kick the ball in the same way with the same result.
AC: Maybe Robin van Persie learnt some tricks from you. Was he really a hard-to-manage youngster when he took his first steps with Feyenoord?
PvH: Robin has a strong character. From his early days you could see that he was an exceptional talent. He has proved that with Arsenal and the national team. I am really sorry that he was struck down by serious injuries a couple of times.
AC: Once you said, if I remember rightly, ‘Just because a player scores a lot of goals, it doesn’t mean he is a great striker’.
PvH: Yes. A top class striker should, in my opinion, weigh the situation and know how to finish. Strikers who are always hitting the ball as hard as possible can score 20-25 goals in one season, however, you cannot be sure they’ll repeat their performance in the next ones.
AC: From 1997 to 1999 you played in England with Nottingham Forest. Since then, do you think money and foreign owners have deprived the Premier League of a part of its identity?
PvH: No, I don’t think so. The Premier League is still the most popular competition in the world. It has just become more global.
AC: England are supposed to be the Holland-Belgium bid’s toughest opponents. Why, in your opinion, should FIFA choose Holland and Belgium as the 2018 World Cup host countries?
PvH: We are a safe choice to host the FIFA World Cup for several reasons. Firstly, we offer a compact bid, where no-one has to board an airplane after arriving in Belgium or the Netherlands. Fans can go everywhere in just a few hours at the most. Public transport will be free and we will have two million bikes available at railway stations and stadiums to ride around on. Thus, the next match is never far away! We have the experience from hosting Euro 2000 and welcomed hundreds of thousands of fans. Furthermore, we want to show that the World Cup is not exclusively reserved for the larget footballing nations. We want to make clear that smaller nations can do the same thing if they work together with a good spirit.
AC: You are currently working for the KNVB (the Dutch football federation) in the World Coach project. Can you tell us a little about that?
PvH: Sure. Both the Belgian and Holland football associations have some good ideas on how to create a better world with the help of football. I have been travelling as a world coach myself. A world coach is educated to help children from minority groups to improve their football as well as their position in life. A world coach serves as an excellent example for his pupils and we will educate thousands of world coaches all around the planet prior to 2018. Actually, I have just returned from Trinidad and Tobago, where we educated 25 world coaches on a five-day course. They can help local children to get a grip on life through football.
AC: That sounds like a great scheme Pierre, I wish you every success with it. Thanks for taking the time to speak to me today.
PvH: No problem.
Fonte: Inside Futbol