In what has been a fairly rocky season for perennial title challengers Liverpool one man has typified their dogged play with his spirit and will to run himself into the ground for the cause – Dirk Kuyt.
Often derided in the media as nothing more than a workhorse, someone who can contain an attacking threat down the right flank rather than provide one, Kuyt has proved one of Benitez’s most astute buys.
Signed for £10m on the back of three impressive seasons in Holland for Feynoord where he notched 71 league goals, he was thought to be the 20 goal a season striker the Anfield faithful had been crying out for since the heady days of Fowler and Owen, but after initially struggling to hit the target consistently he’s reinvented himself as a fine right winger.
It has to be said he’s often played for Holland on the wide right of a front three and isn’t required to get back as much for Holland as he does Liverpool so he’s not totally unfamiliar with the role but his conversion to the wing has been an undoubted success, but much like the man himself, it’s one thats gone down as a quiet and often unnoticed one.
With Torres persistently struggling with niggling injuries and other key man Gerrard suffering from some indifferent form and injuries himself, Kuyt recently has taken up the mantle of goal scorer in a Liverpool side enjoying some good form. Four goals in his last five games have seen Kuyt make what was thought to be a tough few weeks a successful one in the main.
The same criticisms will always apply to Kuyt, that he’s symptomatic of Benitez’s penchant for hard working rather than eye catching players, that he’s poor in possession and can’t cross, but these are lazy stereotypes – sure he’s capable of all these things every now and then but more often than not he’s a provider, a scorer of important goals and one that most Liverpool fans love to see on the team sheet, all whilst being dependable and supremely fit.
He’s a big game player too and goals against the like of Inter in the Champions’ League last 16 last season, one in the 2006/7 final against Milan, against Everton almost every time they play them and his extra-time winner against Standard Liege in the Champions League qualifiers where if Liverpool had failed to qualify the results would have been catastrophic. He scores goals at vital times, often late on and is an essential cog in Liverpool’s machine.
He’s grown into a cult hero of sorts and this status is fully deserved, 9 assists and 12 league goals last season made him officially the Premier Leagues most productive winger and so far this term he’s got 9 goals and 3 assists – not a bad return for £10m I’d argue.
Kuyt will never fit the pattern that many people consider to be a footballer and I think he’s comfortable with that, to use the cliché ‘he’s a good honest pro’ would be somewhat harsh but it’s still relevant nonetheless and as the fisherman’s son quietly goes about his business, don’t bet against a few more last minute winners from the man that research tells me is apparently affectionately known as ‘He-Man’ in his native Holland.