Reds from the past – Dirk Kuyt
This is the first in a series of write ups I will be doing for the next few weeks. It is dedicated to Liverpool players past who wore the jersey proudly and served the club well through their professionalism, heart, and courage. These are the players that may not be remembered and glorified on the same level as a Steven Gerrard or a Jamie Carragher. But they put in a good shift for the club, appreciated the fans and gave the club their best effort instead of a transfer request, when the chips were down, and the finances were low.
Dirk the Underestimated
I must confess that before Dirk wore the Liverpool jersey, the only time I had seen him play was during the 2006 World Cup in Germany. It was a forgettable and short tournament for him and the Oranje as, in my opinion, their coach, and former Netherlands and AC Milan legend, Marco Van Basten always seemed to tinker with the squad and they were swiftly sent packing in the Round of 16. It was hard to be impressed because he just seemed to run a lot without actually accomplishing anything during that tournament. Therefore, I did not really pay much mind when Liverpool signed him and just expected him to be a squad player at best. Thankfully, I am not someone that Rafa Benitez reached out to for consultation before signing the Dutch striker and he went on to gain cult status at Anfield and a place among my favorite Reds.
As a viewer and sports lover, I can say that there are very few of us who pay attention to the stats of a player (goals scored might be an exception). But the player does need to pass the eye test. He has got to be a player who impresses you with the sheer effort he puts out on the pitch. And Kuyt did that in spades. He pulled an impressive shift at Liverpool while serving the club from 2006 through 2012. He earned his nickname of “Mr. Duracell” because he just seemed to always be in motion. I do not ever recollect him standing still, with the exception of that brief lull before a set piece. Armed with endless stamina, a sunny disposition, and a shock of blonde hair that looked like it had been cut by his mother, he quickly earned the respect and adulation of the most hardened and knowledgeable Koppites. The limelight always belonged to the likes of Torres, Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Luis Suarez. But Kuyt was happy and humble to be a team player and facilitator of goals. He was a lethal combination of movement, misdirection, and concentration. He seemed alert to scoring opportunities at all times, not just for himself but for his partners in attack. He developed a quick chemistry with his strike partner Fernando “El Nino” Torres and the two of them backed by the world class midfield of Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano, and the young Momo Sissoko propelled Liverpool to the Champions League final in Dirk’s first season at the club. The 2006-07 season was as good a start to life in the Premier League as the Dutchman could ask for. It took him only 3 starts to score his first goal for the Redmen in a home fixture against Newcastle, and there was no looking back after that.
You can say a lot of things about Liverpool supporters, but one thing you cannot accuse them of is bad taste. The Scousers appreciate a player who works hard and has the desire to win, even if his stats are not eye-popping. Kuyt may not have scored as prolifically as Torres or Owen or Suarez, but he definitely made an impact when the lights shone brightest. An early goal in a win against Chelsea, a goal in the Champions league final, and many other memorable strikes in classic games proved that he did not flinch when the time came to be counted. His time at Liverpool coincided with a very chaotic and frustrating time in the club’s history. The team was competitive and brushed with the top sides in Europe from 2006 to 2009, which included the Champions League final loss to Milan in 2007, and 3rd, 4th and runner up finishes in the League. This phase in the team was exciting and frustrating, because such a high level of football went unrewarded in terms of silverware. The Reds played their socks off and did their fans proud, but Rafa’s erratic approach to player-management and tactics was no match for stone cold champion managers like Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson. The club’s precarious financial condition and the gaffer’s constant insecurity and combativeness finally got the better of the talent on the field, when the latter part of Dirk’s tenure were arguably the most mediocre seasons in the club’s history.
Smiling through adversity
From 2009-2010 through 2011-2012, Liverpool lurched from one problem to the other. Financial struggles, the departure of top level talent like Torres, Alonso and Mascherano; and the digression of aging players like Pepe Reina and Jamie Carragher led to the club sliding down the Premier League hierarchy and in the battle for a spot in the Europa League. But through all the inconsistency and turmoil, Kuyt, Gerrard and a few others stayed to help the club and give the supporters hope. Kuyt repaid the club’s faith in him by finishing top scorer in the 2010-11 season. He was a consistent bright spot at a time when Gerrard was beset with injuries and the likes of Martin Skrtel, Ryan Babel, Jonjo Shelvey and Daniel Agger lacked either the talent or the consistency to give the world class performances that the club needed to compete with the best in England and on the continent. He steered clear of controversy and avoided adding fuel to the fire when the likes of Suarez, Andy Carroll, Javier Mascherano and Joe Cole put the club through embarrassment with their lack of discipline, and near-sighted selfishness. Watching him dart all around and inside the penalty box in a predator-like chase for goal was a sight that energized a lot of us supporters who were going through the fatigue of watching the club fall short time after time. His goal in the 2011-12 League cup final and against Cardiff city after coming on as a substitute all but ensured that he would have at least one medal to show for his time as a Red.
Liverpool’s greatness is not just from the legends who carried the club to the top of the hill. Its also about those strong and proud players who carried the club and kept it standing while the ground right under turned to quicksand. Dirk Kuyt was and forever will be one of those players that the fans will always feel grateful to not letting the competitive fires at Anfield die away.