Foreign players come and go in football. So often they are bought for astronomical amounts of money. Some are massive hits and do the business. Others are more forgettable and leave less acrimoniously. But, there are some who live on. These players are rare but they are loved by fans and players alike. They score goals in big games, they play the game in a certain way, or they just say the right things in the press whilst at the club, or after they have left. These are also players whom you can tell have been affected by the club.
Dirk Kuyt is certainly one of these players in the eyes of many Liverpool fans. Kuyt started his career at Quick Boys in Holland. His potential was obvious and he soon moved onto Utrecht where he stayed between 1998 and 2003. After scoring 51 goals in 160 appearances Kuyt was bought by Feyenoord, where he formed a deadly partnership with future Chelsea forward Salomon Kalou. “K2” were lethal. With Kalou’s pace and Kuyt’s natural eye for goal, Feyenoord were feared nationwide. After scoring 71 goals in 101 appearances in Rotterdam, the Feyenoord captain was getting itchy feet. In the summer of 2006, rumours were abound that Kuyt was on his way to the Premier League. Newcastle and Liverpool were said to the interested. Luckily Liverpool won the race at the cost of a reported £10.5 million.
It was clear from the get-go that Dirk Kuyt was going to be loved by the Kop. His work rate was unmatched and his defensive play, for a striker, was unique and admirable. Even the press picked up on, with one writer in the Daily Mirror stating that Kuyt had “the look of a cult hero in the making.” Kuyt also displayed his knack of scoring important goals in key games. He scored his first goal in his third game for the club, the opener in a 2-0 home win against Newcastle. He also scored the first in a 2-0 home win against Chelsea that season and the winning penalty in the shootout against the West Londoners during the Champions League semi-final. Kuyt finished the season with 14 goals in 48 games in all competitions, including a consolation in the Champions League final defeat to A.C Milan in Athens.
The following season was hit and miss for the Dutchman. The arrival of Fernando Torres brought a change of position for Kuyt. He was moved to the right wing because of his defensive capabilities and work rate. The idea was for Alvaro Arbeloa to get forward and Kuyt was meant to fill in positionally. But it took time for him to adapt to his new role. He was also grieving after the death of his father, which was apparent when he scored the opener in the 2-0 win against Inter Milan in the Champions League round of 16 1st leg at Anfield. Kuyt also memorably scored two penalties in the 2-1 away win in the Merseyside derby. However, it was clear he was struggling to play out wide. He lacked pace and creativity. Kuyt was a natural poacher and he was suffering because of his versatility. He finished the 2007/08 season with 11 goals in 48 games.
Kuyt would remain playing out wide for the rest of his time at Anfield. The following season he managed to score 15 goals from that position as Liverpool finished second in the league. The season after was to be Rafa Benitez’s last at the club. Kuyt was still playing wide but still scoring goals. 2010/11 brought Roy Hodgson to Anfield, but not for long. After the Englishman was sacked in the January of that season, Kenny Dalglish was brought in to steady the ship. The best thing Dalglish did in his second stint as manager was to move Dirk Kuyt back to his natural position. My word did it pay off. Kuyt went on a run of scoring in nine consecutive league games. Among the highlights were the infamoussix-yardd hat-trick against Manchester United at Anfield and the 101st-minute equaliser from the penalty spot at the Emirates against Arsenal. He equalled his best goalscoring season and bagged himself a contract extension.
However, the following season was to be Kuyt’s last. He wouldn’t leave quietly though. Now 32-years-old, his first team starts were beginning to reduce. But, he continued to score goals in big games. He scored an 88th minute winner against Manchester United in the F.A Cup fourth round tie at Anfield and a goal in extra-time in the League Cup final against Cardiff that put us 2-1 up. It was clear that Kuyt didn’t have much in the tank though and he was sold at the end of that season to Fenerbahce.
The legend of Dirk Kuyt lived on though. Many Liverpool fans kept track of Kuyt’s career and he often spoke of his love for the club in the press after he left. When the Dutchman returned to Feyenoord in 2015, it spoke volumes of the man – returning to the club where he made his name to try an accomplish what he was unable to do previously, which was win the Eredivisie. His versatility and sacrifice of his own ability for the sake of the team was made clear once again when the veteran striker was made skipper and moved into central midfield. He turned out to be the professional old head this talented young side needed. On the final day of this season, with Feyenoord needing to beat Heracles Almelo to win the Eredivisie, Kuyt did what he does best. He scored important goals at an important time, netting a hat-trick in a 3-1 home win at de Kuip. He had finally won the Eredivisie. And with that final, glorious game Dirk Kuyt called time on his career.
Rafa Benitez once described Dirk Kuyt as a Duracell bunny. While accurate and well intentioned, it did not serve justice to his ability. Kuyt was tactically phenomenal. Not only was this demonstrated by his ability to practically play anywhere on the pitch, including at right-back for Louis van Gaal at the 2014 World Cup. The fact that Kuyt continued to score goals in this modern game with limited pace and technical ability proves that his intelligence and ability to drag defenders around the pitch were vastly under-rated. Dirk Kuyt also had character in abundance. He never went missing in big games, in fact he lived for them. He was always the man for the big occasion and always managed to score whether he was playing right-wing from the start or coming off the bench to go up front. It was like he never felt pressure and saw every huge match as a chance to prove to the world he was good enough.
He was more than just a footballer in many peoples’ eyes though. Kuyt clearly embraced the city of Liverpool and the culture. He often spoke about his love for the city and how he adored the Scouse accents that his children were developing. If you get five minutes, check out Dirk Kuyt’s Scouse alphabet on Youtube. You will not be disappointed. He was liked instantly by the fans for his on field ability. He is still loved to this day because he saw himself as one of our own.
The biggest compliment you can pay Dirk Kuyt is that he was the ultimate team player. He sacrificed his own chances of personal glory for the good of the team game after game, season after season, throughout his career. The fact he has now won the Eredivisie with Feyenoord, the perennial underdog in Holland, is utterly deserved and poetic.