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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
While England’s footballers sulk in their sun-loungers, the rest of the continent will be contesting the 2008 European Championships. Iain Macintosh, who still won’t allow the word ‘McClaren’ to be uttered in his home, runs the rule over some of the potential stars of the summer. This week, it’s the turn of Ajax and Holland striker, Klass-Jan Huntelaar

There’s a strange food chain in European football that dictates the movements of the world’s finest players. Brazilians, for example, always seem to end up in Spain or Portugal before they go anywhere else. The African players appear obliged to cut their teeth in French football before they get snapped up by the continental superpowers. Dutch forwards, however, are always destined for the Premier League. Ruud van Nistelrooy, Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie; if they impress in the Eredivisie, they’ll wind up in the EPL and the latest star to rumble towards the end of the assembly line is tall, skinny striker Klass-Jan Huntelaar.

The prolific Ajax striker is reportedly being chased by both Manchester United and Chelsea, which is rather advantageous position to be in. Huntelaar, though, has certainly done enough to warrant the attention. After arriving in Amsterdam during the winter break of 2005/06, he started scoring goals at a phenomenal rate. When Marco van Basten gave him an international chance against Ireland he took it with both hands and wouldn’t give it back, scoring two and making another two against Ireland. In short, he’s one to watch.

It looked as though PSV Eindhoven had the Eredivisie sewn up some time ago, but the conquerors of Tottenham Hotspur have wobbled recently and Ajax had cut the gap at the top of the table to four points. Their visit to Eindhoven for this match was as crucial as they come. An Ajax win would close the gap to a single point. A PSV victory would extend it to seven. Sadly, the build-up was as exciting as the game got.

The only moment that raised my eyebrows in a dogged, over-cautious first half was the decision to play Huntelaar in a withdrawn second striker role. The Uruguayan poacher Luis Suarez was pushed forward instead and Huntelaar was forced to scrap around in no-mans land in order to find the ball. It seemed a strange deployment to say the least as even a cursory examination of the player reveals what appears to be a classic ‘number 9’. His positioning is exceptional and on the rare occasion he did manage to get a shot away, his technique was first class. He’s not noticeably quick, but he has a spark of acceleration that would serve him better in the six yard box.

Unfortunately, a combination of heavy marking and his manager’s refusal to throw him up further front meant that I didn’t get to see an awful lot of justification for the hype. In fairness to the 24 year old, he never let his head drop and toiled as hard as he could to create something, anything to work with. He had one chance, a snatched header late in the game, but it drifted wide and the game meandered out into a 0-0 draw.

It’s always difficult to judge how an overseas player would fare in the Premier League, doubly so when you’ve only closely studied him once, but I’m not sure that Huntelaar would prosper particularly well. The trouble with the steady flow of forwards from one country is that you can easily recall as many bad ones as you can good. I didn’t see anything to convince me that he could enjoy the success of a Van Nistelrooy or a Van Persie. All I saw was a hard-working, technically proficient striker who was played out of position and marked out of the game. And that’s a Dirk Kuyt in my book.