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Black History Month: Patrick the great

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When you think of some of the best players of the last 20 years, you better have Kluivert in that conversation.

FUSSBALL: WM FRANCE 98 Marseille, 04.07.98 Photo by Mark Sandten/Bongarts/Getty Images

When you think about some of the best players in the game in the 1990s and 2000s, one guy that has to be included in the conversation is Patrick Kluivert. Kluivert dominated the game for the better part of a decade, becoming one of the most feared strikers in the world in the air.

Born in Amsterdam to a father from Suriname (Kenneth Kluivert, who played professional soccer) and a mother from Curaçao, Kluivert grew up playing street soccer and quickly caught the eye of Ajax. He joined Ajax’s academy when he was just 7 years old. He played a bunch of positions in his youth, including defender, and the versatility he possessed was cultivated by his knowledge of those positions.

Kluivert was known throughout his career for his vision on the ball and used his 6’2” frame and strength to be a major factor in the air. In fact, he was known for having one of the best aerial games in soccer, particularly for forwards. He also was very technically sound and used the intelligence he gained from playing so many positions to be able to beat you from anywhere on the field. However, it was his first touch to gain separation from a defender that separated him from the rest of the pack.

Kluivert was considered part of Ajax’s Golden Generation that came up in the 1990s, and he was just 18 when he made his first team debut for the club in August 1994. He quickly scored his debut and used that to propel him to be the top goalscorer for the team in his first season, with 18 goals in 25 appearances. Not only did he help the team to the Eredivisie title, he scored the game-winning goal in the 85th minute of the Champions League final against AC Milan, becoming the youngest player to score in the final of that competition.

His career took off from there. He finished 5th in the Ballon d’Or voting in 1995 and scored 52 goals for Ajax in his first 3 seasons. He then moved to AC Milan in 1997, but his stay at the San Siro only lasted a season. In 1998, just before the summer transfer deadline expired, Kluivert secured a move to Barcelona, reuniting with his former coach from Ajax, Louis van Gaal. Over the course of 6 seasons, he became a prolific scorer for the Blaugrana, scoring 122 goals in 257 appearances. He won a La Liga trophy in 1999 for the club, but his individual success and partnership with Rivaldo did not help the club to any more trophies. Kluivert finished up his club career with short stints at Newcastle, Valencia, PSV Eindhoven, and Lille.

Patrick Kluivert became a household name in the soccer world through his play on the international level for the Netherlands. He made his debut in November 1994 in a Euro qualifier against the Czech Republic, and he scored his debut goal in his second match for the Oranje in March 1995.

He helped the Dutch qualify for Euro 1996, but a knee injury kept him out for most of the tournament. He did find a way to make an impact, scoring against England to send the Dutch to the knockout stage.

He was also a member of the Netherlands team that went to the 1998 World Cup in France, where they made it to the semifinals and finished in 4th place. He scored a goal in the quarterfinal against Argentina and then the equalizer against Brazil in the semifinal. They eventually lost the semifinal on penalties. Two years later, at Euro 2000, Kluivert was one of the stars of the tournament. He won the Golden Boot, finishing with 5 goals, and was on the Team of the Tournament as he led the Oranje to 3rd place.

The Dutch did not make the field for the 2002 World Cup, so Patrick Kluivert’s last major tournament was Euro 2004. Even though he was battling injuries towards the end of his career, he scored 3 goals during Euro 2004 qualifying and made the roster for the tournament, as the team would again reach the semifinals.

Patrick Kluivert retired as the most prolific scorer in Dutch national team history, finishing with 40 goals in 79 caps. In 2004, Pelé gave him the ultimate honor, naming Kluivert to his list of the 100 greatest living players. It was well deserved. Patrick Kluivert, in an era that has a ton of household names, was mentioned right alongside all of them. And if you saw him play, the strength and grace in the air that he had is something to emulate.

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For more Black History Month stories, check out our Black History Month hub. We will be bringing a story each day this month to highlight some of the biggest moments in black American and world soccer history.