An unlikely hero?
In late June, a total of 108 English Premier League based players embarked on a journey to South Africa to represent their national teams. From that list, the media lauded over superstar names such as Fabregas, Rooney, Torres, Van Persie and Tevez. All were expected to play major roles in their respective nation’s quest for glory.
How wrong they we all were.
Rooney flattered to deceive, Torres has looked like the walking dead and Fabregas has been firmly benched. Instead, a player who has often been looked upon as a joke figure by club and country has come to the fore over the past four weeks. This is a player, very few football fans would have chosen for their ‘World Cup Dream Team’ before the tournament began. A man who this evening, may collect a well-deserved World Cup winners medal. Who? I hear you ask. None other than Dirk Kuyt, of course.
Before you stop reading and burst into a fit of giggles, let me throw some stats at you, if I may. Kuyt has started all six of Holland’s World Cup games, scoring one goal and providing three assists (only one less than the tournament leaders Messi and Schweinsteiger).
He rarely gets substituted and has played in a new left-sided forward position throughout the World Cup. It was from this position that he made the cross from which Arjen Robben headed Holland’s third and ultimately winning goal in Tuesday’s semi-final against Uruguay. Whilst Robben slid on his knees to celebrate and looked to the heavens, very few praised the quality of Kuyt’s inch-perfect cross.
Kuyt may look out of place in a Dutch team that has traditionally been known for flair and fabulous technique, but it’s his work rate, adaptability and selflessness that make him so important. Don’t just take my word for it. His former club manager and new Inter Milan chief Rafa Benitez once said that: “Dirk is always the first name on my team sheet”. This is a team that features such stellar luminaries of Torres, Gerrard and Mascherano.
On the eve of Tuesday’s huge semi-final against Uruguay, Holland coach Bert van Marwijk echoed Benitez’s comments by saying: “Every player has a period where things don’t work out and Liverpool had a very tough year, but Kuyt is extremely important for us. The way he plays shows his passion and enthusiasm, and that is catching.”
It was no surprise that in that semi-final against Uruguay, with the score delicately hinged at 3-2 to Holland, there was a moment with only seconds remaining on the clock when the South American’s had their last flurry towards the Dutch goal. In a packed penalty area, a Uruguay boot pulled back to unleash a shot at goal, when suddenly a straggly haired player in Orange hurled himself forward to block the incoming shot. Seconds later, the final whistle was blown. Who made that timely match-saving block? No prizes for guessing, Dirk Kuyt.
So, this evening as Messrs Lineker and Chiles eulogise over the likes of Robben, Van Persie and Sneijder during their respective channels pre-match hype, please spare a thought for the unlikeliest of heroes.