Kuyt balances Dutch forward line
Dirk Kuyt's work rate and hustle are rare attributes in Dutch soccer
The versatile Kuyt can play at striker or on the wing and is rarely injured
Kuyt previously played for current Dutch coach Van Marwijk at Feyenoord
The Netherlands' "Fab Four" has a fifth member, and he is the embodiment of this Dutch team's approach under coach Bert van Marwijk. While playmaker Wesley Sneijder takes the credit for his two goals (FIFA credited Brazil midfielder Felipe Melo's own goal against the Dutch in favor of Sneijder) against Brazil, holding duo Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel bulldoze their way through midfield opponents, there on the right wing, and sometimes the left, storming up and tracking back, never complaining, is Dirk Kuyt.
Kuyt is the reason why Robin van Persie's public preference to unite the "Fab Four" -- with Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart -- has only ever seen the light of day in one match, for 25 minutes at the 2008 European Championships, during the 4-1 win over France. Kuyt is the antithesis of the quartet: no ego, no fuss, and rarely does the spectacular. He was superbly unruffled by Van Persie's comment.
"Everyone is entitled to an opinion, that's good," Kuyt responded. "Dutch players like to think and talk about football but, at the end of the day, the coach picks the team." It was typical of the player, unpretentious and putting the team first. These are characteristics he learned in Katwijk, a small fishing village on the west coast of Holland, where he was born and grew up.
Kuyt is a rarity among Dutch footballers who succeed abroad: by his own admission, he lacks the technical ability of Dennis Bergkamp, Robben or Van Persie, and he does not have the belligerent streak of, say, Edgar Davids or Clarence Seedorf. His strengths are much more, well, English: he is physically powerful, rarely injured, and has a unique desire to succeed wherever he plays.
"I grew up as a normal player, a striker who scores goals but also worked very hard," Kuyt said. "Basically, I was the same as I am now only I practised more then. Even at an early age, my mentality was to work hard. Putting in a lot of effort has always come naturally to me."
This is the Katwijk way: Kuyt's father, Gerrit, was a fisherman who was out at sea five days a week. The young Kuyt started playing for Katwijk's amateur side, Quick Boys, when he was six. He was soon rising through the youth teams and, when he was 10, his father gave him an ultimatum: "He said I must do the thing I liked the most, and that if I was a fisherman, I wouldn't be able to play football." Kuyt chose soccer though he reckons he would have turned out to be a good fisherman too.
That decision has been a blessing for Van Marwijk, whose byword in this new-look Dutch approach is pragmatism. Kuyt scored in Holland's opening-game 2-0 win over Denmark and unselfishly set up Sneijder for what turned out to be the winning goal in the Round of 16 win over Slovakia. He also provided the assist in the win over Brazil, flicking on Robben's corner for Sneijder to head home.
Kuyt has always known that his mentality gives him an edge over other players, though he has never forgotten the advice from Alfons Groenendijk, a Dutch league, Cup and Uefa Cup winner with Ajax and Kuyt's teammate at first professional club Utrecht. "Alfons used to tell me what it meant to be a professional footballer, and from that moment on, I focused on improving myself in every area."
Kuyt averaged eight goals a season as a winger at Utrecht, until his breakthrough campaign in 2002. Then new coach Foeke Booy moved him to a central position and he responded with 20 goals in 34 matches. Kuyt also scored and was Man of the Match in that season's Dutch Cup final, a 4-1 win over Feyenoord.
The beaten finalists had just sold Pierre van Hooijdonk and wanted Kuyt to replace him. Van Marwijk was coach at the time, in 2003, and sanctioned a $1.3 million deal for him. In a run of over five years between March 2001 and April 2006, Kuyt played 179 league matches without missing a game. The boy from Katwijk was in peak physical condition, and enjoying his new position in the middle.
In his first season at Feyenoord, he scored 20 goals in 34 games, and the following season he scored 29 goals in 34 games. He made it four successive seasons with over 20 goals when he hit another 22 in his final season, when he was captain of the club. "At all the clubs I played for, there was always the question, "Is he going make it?' because I don't have the talent of players like Thierry Henry or Robin van Persie," he said. "But with a good mentality on and off the pitch -- and especially on the training-ground -- I became better and better. At Utrecht and Feyenoord they still like me. The biggest compliment after I left both clubs was when someone said, 'Don't look for another Dirk Kuyt because there isn't another player like him'."
Holland's previous coach Marco van Basten wasn't so sure: despite picking him for 11 of its 12 World Cup 2006 qualifiers, Kuyt began the competition on the bench, although he started in place of Van Nistelrooy in the Round of 16 defeat to Portugal. That summer, he moved to Liverpool where his all-action performances left him unaffected by former coach Rafa Benitez's rotation policy. "The mentality, the atmosphere and the way people live their football in England was unique and as I grew up, I felt that would suit me the best," he said.
Van Marwijk's appointment as Holland coach has allowed the pair to reunite and both men are now reaping the benefits. "We have dreamed of reaching the World Cup final our whole lives and everyone expects us to get there now but this will be our toughest game," Kuyt added. "We still have a lot of hard work to do." As he has already shown, no-one is prepared to work harder.