at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Some athletes just refuse to heed the warning signs, to take notice of the directions on the road. Some athletes just take what they can and keep moving forwards.
That, in many ways, is the secret to Dirk Kuyt’s impact at this World Cup, the reason why he is now one of only seven Dutch footballers to have played 100 times or more for the Oranje.
Once nicknamed ‘Mr Duracell’ by his first manager at Liverpool, Rafael Benitez, Kuyt nevertheless spent so long on 98 caps that even he may have wondered if his juice had finally run out. Prior to this World Cup, the 33-year-old had not played for his country since last year. He announced he would retire from internationals after this tournament.
On Saturday, however, following the shoot-out win over Costa Rica, Kuyt stood in the interview area at Salvador’s Arena Fonte Nova and talked about his re-emergence as a pivotal cog in Louis van Gaal’s team, the striker turned wing back who never seems to stop running.
‘Yes, it is new to me but I am enjoying it,’ Kuyt smiled. ‘Playing for your country, even in a role you are not accustomed to, makes you very proud and you just want to be successful.
‘We have the chance to reach another World Cup final, so we have to give everything for that. The way I look at it is simple. If you want to do something, you have to go in the same direction as the coach and Louis van Gaal is the perfect manager to make that happen.’
Kuyt didn’t play in Holland’s opening two games against Spain and Australia here in Brazil and it seemed as though he would remain in the shadows. He emerged in his new wing-back role in the final group game against Chile, however, and subsequent displays against Mexico and Costa Rica proved fundamental to Holland’s progress.
Against Mexico — in the unyielding heat of Fortaleza — Kuyt was astonishing, playing in three positions and somehow maintaining his energy levels to win the corner from which his team equalised with five minutes left.
That game was played in 38-degree heat — many fans seated in the sun moved to walkways at the back of the stands to find shade.Played on the anniversary of his father’s death and a day that brought him his 100th cap, Kuyt seemed unfazed, his personal heat map so impressive down both sides of the field it’s a wonder his boots didn’t leave two trenches behind.
In the dressing room afterwards, team captain Van Persie paid his own tribute. ‘We have given Dirk a very nice gift for his 100th international game,’ revealed Van Persie. ‘I had a little speech for him. I told him I am so proud of him and that he is an example for young and old.
‘Only seven players have reached this number and he stayed a long time, stabbing away on 98. If anyone deserves this, it’s him.’
Typically, Van Gaal devised his plan to use Kuyt’s reserves of fitness, energy and professionalism as a wing-back as far back as early May. Leading up to the tournament, the player sold to Fenerbahce for just £1million by Liverpool two summers ago knew his time may be about to come again. He was ready.
During his six years at Anfield, Kuyt’s appetite for hard work was always apparent. There were others more gifted but few who made as much of what they had.
Against Costa Rica, his contribution was almost faultless. This time it lasted 120 minutes and he registered an 88 per cent pass success rate and won 71 per cent of his aerial duels. Then he scored a penalty in the shoot-out.
‘Yes, I was tired,’ he reflected. ‘But you do what you have to do for the team don’t you? Fatigue doesn’t come into it after a certain level. The game is still going on so you follow it.’
Even Dutch football’s most famous curmudgeon has appreciated his impact. ‘With Kuyt, you can, at a tactical level, go in all directions,’ reflected Johan Cruyff. ‘When you have someone like him walking around, you are blessed.’ – Daily Mail