Rafael van de Vaart’s touch of genius to see off Aston Villa on Saturday was reminiscent of other Dutch Premier League legends, whose names are uttered in hushed tones by the adoring fans.
Players from the Netherlands have a mixed record in the Premier League. All too often the likes of Andy van der Meyde (Everton) and Marco Boogers (West Ham United) come along and spoil things, but here are eight geniuses who have each in their own way set the Premier League alight.
Gaze in wonder as you scroll through the list of legends (in no particular order) – and pick your favourite!
1. Jaap Stam (Manchester United 1998-2001)
There are too many superlatives to sum up the career of this absolute beast of a defender. In his three short years at Old Trafford, Stam’s excellent contributions in defence helped Manchester United to attain three consecutive Premier League titles, an F.A Cup, and of course the 1998/99 Champions League, as well as the Intercontinental Cup (a one-off match against the South American champions, abolished in 2004).
He suddenly, and controversially, moved to Lazio in 2001 after the Italian club made a £16.5m offer for a 29 year old, injury carrying Stam. Sir Alex Ferguson still conceded that “in playing terms, it was a mistake.” Lo and behold, United relinquished the title in 2001/02.
2. Dennis Bergkamp (Arsenal 1995-2006)
This man could create something from the worst, most pressurised situations imaginable. His passing, shooting, dribbling and trickery often stood out by a country mile as lesser teams looked on in awe and fear. It speaks volumes that he is the only Dutch player in the English Football Hall of Fame. Bergkamp was signed by Bruce Rioch in June 1995 for £7.5m, and after a quiet start, he began to prove his worth for a then below-par Arsenal side.
He forged a lethal partnership with Ian Wright, and things turned around as his 16-goal contribution helped Arsenal attain the 1997/98 Premier League and F.A Cup. He has never been a 20-goal a season man, simply because he was such an effective support striker with his near-perfect distribution, but remains firmly lodged in Arsenal folklore.
3. Arjen Robben (Chelsea 2004-2007)
Robben was a vital part of the Abramovich fuelled revolution at Chelsea, which saw them win their first title in 50 years in the 2004/05 season. Despite struggling with injury, Robben hit 9 goals in 29 appearances during his debut season, and was short-listed for the PFA Young Player of the Year award. His consistent performances helped Chelsea retain their title at a canter.
Injury once again struck however in 2006/07, ultimately leading to a transfer to Real Madrid in the summer of 2007. Despite his mixed fortunes at Stamford Bridge, he is certainly one of the most significant Chelsea players in their recent golden age, leaving for the Bernabeu on good terms.
4. Robin Van Persie (Arsenal 2004-Present)
Seen by many as Dennis Bergkamp’s protégé – and to some justification. Despite suffering from injury towards the end of 2004/05, he managed 10 goals in 41 games, even more impressive since he occasionally dropped into an attacking midfield role to help the potent partnership of Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry. In 2005/06, his dead-eye for goal and ability to shoot from long range became evident, with eight goals in eight starts early in the season.
Again he sustained an injury, but continued to play through the pain barrier until doctor’s orders dictated otherwise, finishing with an improved return of 11 goals from 38 appearances. Since Thierry Henry’s departure in 2007, Van Persie has become a mainstay striker, with his total return currently standing at 73 goals from 200 appearances for Arsenal.
5. Ruud Van Nistelrooy (Manchester United 2001-2006)
After Van Nistelrooy signed for £19m, his abundant talent was immediately effective as he managed 23 goals in 32 league games (plus 10 goals in the Champions League), and also managed to break a record by scoring in eight consecutive Premier League games. In his second (2002/03) season United regained the title, with Van Nistelrooy as the Premier League’s top gun, having scored 25 goals in 34 games with three hat-tricks.
At the start of the 2003/04, Van Nistelrooy beat his own record by scoring in ten consecutive games, and then beat Denis Law’s record of 28 goals in European competition the following year. By the time he left in the summer of 2006, Van Nistelrooy had scored 150 goals in 220 appearances, with 38 goals in European competition.
6. Marc Overmars (Arsenal 1997-2000)
A wizard with both feet, Overmars successfully blended pace with power and precision as his arrival coincided with Arsenal’s surge up the league table. He scored some very important goals in his time at Arsenal, including an F.A Cup winner against Newcastle in May 1998, and the title clincher at Old Trafford earlier that year.
Overall, Overmars was probably Arsenal’s most effective winger for many years, with consistently good deliveries establishing Arsenal as one of the most feared teams in the Premier League.
7. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (Leeds 1997-1999, Chelsea 2000-2004, Middlesbrough 2004-2006, Charlton 2006-2007, Cardiff 2007-2008)
The Premier League’s favourite journeyman deserves his place on this list, with a career spanning eighteen years and ten different clubs. Hasselbaink’s Premier League debut came in 1997 for Leeds United, scoring 23 goals in 1997/98, and 21 in 1998/99 – contributing greatly to Leeds’ 4th place finish. After a year with Athletico Madrid, Hasselbaink returned to England in the summer of 2000 to ply his trade for Chelsea for a then-record £15m deal.
Again he proved his Premiership prowess with 23 goals from 35 appearances that season, and although his following seasons were not as industrious, he ended up with 87 goals from 177 appearances for Chelsea. After moving to Middlesbrough in 2004, his career began to slide, but managed 34 goals in 89 appearances. After a torrid 2006/07 season with relegated Charlton, he finished his career at Cardiff with only 9 goals in 44 appearances, before finally calling it a day in 2008.
8. Edwin van der Sar (Fulham 2001-2005, Manchester United 2005-Present)
It speaks volumes about a goalkeeper’s ability when he is compared to Peter Schmeichel, but van der Sar has set Old Trafford alight with his unique age-defying athleticism. On his day, he is the most composed and focused goalkeeper in the world, and has set a set a new record for consecutive clean sheets in his time at Old Trafford.
There is not much else to say, except that this man is ageless, and has what it takes to become the stuff of legend both in playing terms and when moving on to coach custodian stars of the future.
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