Flying With Kuyt

Posted by Paul Tomkins on August 17, 2006, 12:22:22 PM

Dirk Kuyt, the man of many goals and even more name spellings, has proved ruthless in front of goal in the Dutch league. Should he agree personal terms in the next 24 hours, Liverpool will finally have their fourth 'main' striker, and this one is an out-and-out goal-getter.

He completes the balance of the attacking options. By now we should all know what Crouch offers, while Bellamy is the quick striker who'll also drift wide. These days Fowler is arguably even more effective as a creator – his vision and passing are superb when he drops deep. Kuyt is someone who can run for 90 minutes and plunder goals.

If Jan Kromkamp remains at Liverpool, as an alternative to Steve Finnan, then it will be virtually impossible to find a gap in this current squad, where every position is (at least) double-banked with talent.

Kuyt's arrival, once the 't's are crossed, the 'i's dotted and the 'p' analysed in the lab, can only be seen as great news. I honestly felt the Reds were ready to challenge for the title with the squad as it stood, with more options for creating and scoring goals; but another striker can only increase the chances. If he proves a flop, taking the worst-case scenario, there are other players capable of scoring goals; if he does well, everyone is laughing.

But is Kuyt the new Ruud van Nistelrooy or the next Mateja Kezman?

Of course, he is neither. He is a separate individual, with no connections to the other two beyond scoring lots of goals in the Eredivisie. He is joining Liverpool in 2006, not Manchester United in 2001 or Chelsea in 2004. Comparisons will always be made, but for every player in the world you can find an example of someone similar failing and someone similar succeeding.

Bad strikers do not have 30-goal-seasons in any country, but the question is whether or not such prolific scoring can be translated to another league, where goals are usually harder to come by. Ruud van Nistelrooy proved capable of doing so; Mateja Kezman did not, although he was not given many starts in the blue of Chelsea; Mourinho wanted a target-man in his first XI, not a prolific scorer.

Kuyt’s record suggests he is a hugely reliable finisher. In the last two seasons he has has notched up a total of 57 goals, at a rate of 0.74-per-90 minutes; albeit in a league which doesn’t rank amongst the very best in Europe. That said, Dutch football is not a weak league like Scotland, the one I've seen it compared to.

Van Nistelrooy leads to an interesting comparison. In his two full seasons at PSV van Nistelrooy racked up an average of 30 goals-a-season; in his four injury-free seasons with Manchester United in the Premiership (thus excluding 2004/05) he averaged 22 goals per year –– a 25% reduction in goals coming from the [iEredivisie to the Premiership. 

Kuyt has scored an average of 24 goals-per-season in his three years with Feyenoord; if he saw a similar reduction to van Nistelrooy in his league statistics when heading from the top flight in Holland to the top flight in England he could still find himself close to 20 league goals-a-season. But as has been shown to be the case, it just needs reliable strikers to win the league, not necessarily the most prolific.

Kuyt's also a player who has improved in recent seasons, after a fairly slow start to his career, which suggests he might not have reached his full potential.

His performances in the World Cup, for a Holland team lacking confidence and direction, should not be taken too seriously, especially as he tended to be stuck on the wing; only one appearance was as a starter, and he certainly looked no worse than Ruud van Nistelrooy. Kuyt was under tremendous pressure – his first start in the World Cup, and he had to score to help the team through.

His movement and work-rate were first-class; his finishing was lax on a couple of occasions but he was in the right areas. Having been a striker as a semi-pro I know what it's like to struggle in front of goal when you first move up to a higher level; but once you get over that mental hurdle and prove to yourself you're good enough you can relax and play your natural game. We've seen it with Crouch in the last nine months, where he's scored 22 goals for club and country.

I was actually quite impressed with Kuyt over the summer, without ever thinking he was a must-have player on that evidence alone. But give me an up-and-coming willing striker who is capable of scoring goals and who works for the team over an overweight and under-motivated Ronaldo any day, based on this World Cup. Kuyt isn't yet a superstar; but he can be. Being at Liverpool will help.

Also, plenty of top-class goalscorers have failed to make much of a dent on international football. Robbie Fowler and Ian Wright have just been overtaken by the largely-derided Peter Crouch in terms of international goals, with Crouch also scoring at a rate better than Alan Shearer (and without 25% of his goals being penalties). Meanwhile, Jermaine Defoe, who has an excellent goals-per-game record in English football, has just one goal in 17 England appearances. Go figure.

So the striking roster is about to be completed. With Bellamy, Crouch, Fowler and Kuyt there won't be too many training sessions missed due to modelling assignments. When Rafa said he wanted strikers who can frighten the opposition he clearly wasn't joking.

You can't beat an ugly centre-forward, whose bag-of-spanners face shows he's not afraid to put his head in where it hurts –– although Ian Dowie is living proof that simply being ugly does not suffice on its own.

It can go two ways for a striker like Kuyt arriving in England. Either he'll struggle to find his best at a big club in a tougher league, and find no rhythm as part the rotation system – in the way Djibril Cissé seemed to suffer; or he'll score even more goals by being in a better team, especially now creativity and pace has been added to wide areas.

Also, Kuyt is being hand-picked by Rafa. That will help him, as much as it hindered the previous striker to arrive at Liverpool for £10m+.

I still believe that in a very counter-attacking team, as the Reds were under Houllier, and with the total admiration and support of his manager, Djibril Cissé would have flourished, at least in terms of his individual goals tally, even if the team might have been limited as a result; managers have their own 'types' of player, who suit their system, and it can undermine the confidence of any player when a new man takes charge and has his own way of working. Unlike Cissé, Kuyt fits Rafa's profile.

With the Dutchman about sign, it can be said – and I give advanced warning of a bad pun – that the sky's the limit for Kuyt.

© Paul Tomkins & Oliver Anderson 2006

This article contains statistics and adapted passages from ‘The Red Review – A Liverpool FC Almanac’, with limited special edition copies with an exclusive extra chapter available to pre-order at ahead of an early-to-mid-September release. The book will not be available in retail outlets until November 1st

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