Aaron pens a tribute to Dirk Kuyt following the Dutchman’s departure from Anfield after six great years.
Every once in a while a player comes along who captures the hearts of Kopites everywhere. Down the years Liverpool supporters have awarded cult status to an array of stars, varied in talent but all immortalised for their efforts and contribution to LFC. From Joey Jones to Robbie Fowler, such favourites have gone down in Anfield folklore. Yesterday afternoon one of our modern day heroes bowed-out following six sterling years of service. Dirk Kuyt, always the man for the big occasion, will long be remembered as a reds hero.
A real buzz surrounded Kuyt’s move from Feyenoord in 2006. A £9 million purchase he arrived with a reputation for scoring goals and the promise of firing Liverpool to further highs following on from recent Champions League and FA Cup success. Few will forget his debut against West Ham; coming on as a second half substitute and immediately fizzing-in a shot from fully 35 yards. Though veering just wide of Shaka Hislop’s post the sheer audacity of the effort had fans licking their lips in anticipation.
Our Flying Dutchman was made to wait four games to break his duck, turning home a Steve Finnan cross against Newcastle at the Anfield Road End. His infectious style and combative approach enthused supporters who quickly likened him more to van Nistelrooy than Kezman. What a relief! Several highs followed during that inaugural season, including stunning strikes against Spurs and West Ham, as well as a league winner at home to Chelsea. The same opponents later fell foul to Kuyt’s decisive penalty in a pulsating Champions League shoot-out, sealing the reds passage to an Athens Final. Although that showpiece ended in defeat the popular forward headed home a consolation goal, his thirteenth of a productive campaign.
His second season brought-about great change. The sad passing of his father culminated in a loss of form and a dearth in goals. Fernando Torres’ arrival meanwhile found Kuyt shifted-out to an unfamiliar right-wing role. Typically selfless he developed his overall game and displayed the kind of endeavour not witnessed since Kevin Keegan ruled the roost. Such work-rate endeared him to the Kop faithful and made a subsequent mockery of Jermaine Pennant’s contribution on that flank. ‘Deadly Dirk’ also began to carve-out a reputation for scoring vital goals. A Derby double made him the toast of Merseyside, while a memorable strike to help beat Inter Milan sent the reds on route to another Champions League semi.
His third year at Anfield was undoubtedly his best, working in tandem with Torres and Steven Gerrard to push the side to an impressive second place finish. Twelve league goals almost helped leapfrog Manchester United and deliver that elusive nineteenth crown. As it was Benitez’s charges just fell short, despite delivering their highest Premiership points total and losing just two games. Nonetheless the future was bright … or so we thought.
Since such time the club’s struggles have been well documented. One of the few constants throughout this period has been Kuyt’s tireless commitment to an often faltering cause. Benitez’s departure saw many question whether the Dutchman had a future at the club but first Roy Hodgson and then Kenny Dalglish identified him as a vital cog in their respective re-jigs.
Under Dalglish Kuyt was reacquainted with the striking role, filling a void left by Torres’ acrimonious exit. Towards the end of the 2010/11 season he struck-up a terrific understanding with Luis Suarez and in the process scored a glut of goals. The defining moment of Kuyt’s Liverpool career also came during this purple patch, THAT hat-trick at home to United.
In truth none of the goals required a great skill-set, culminating in a combined six-yards but the treble equalled Peter Beardsley’s feat some 21 years previous. They also signalled a reds resurgence under Dalglish and helped propel the side to a sixth-placed finish.
What turned-out to be Dirk’s farewell campaign was hugely frustrating, both for him and the club. Omitted from the side far too often and in favour of inferior signings, he failed to adjust to the role of squad-player. There were still a handful of scrapbook moments; none more significant than an overdue cup success. Again dropped from the team, Kuyt came on at Wembley to fire Liverpool in-front against a dogged Cardiff side. Far from satisfied he went on to clear off the line and convert a coolly-despatched penalty in a tense shoot-out.
Amidst the celebrations read a banner proclaiming: DIRK KUYT – WORKING CLASS HERO. That flag, in that instant, captured the fans sheer adoration for a man they nicknamed the Duracell Bunny. A cult figure, finally with a medal to show for his exemplary service.
With goals at a premium it was a relief for Dirk to reach the landmark of 50 league strikes before seeking pastures new. That milestone came away at Wolves and preceded another slaying of United, this time in the FA Cup. With time running-out, Kuyt latched onto an Andy Carroll flick and smashed-home a famous winner to send The Kop into delirium. To the last, the man for the biggest of occasions.
As the season petered-out it became fairly obvious this was a long-goodbye. Excluded from two further Wembley appearances against Everton and Chelsea, Kuyt failed to disguise his dissatisfaction. He did not take kindly to being subbed at home to Fulham and even gave interviews to the press underlining his readiness to leave.
For all it’s inevitably however this transfer has saddened many. Since the inception of The Premier League Liverpool have had only a handful of true greats. Somewhere in a list containing Fowler, Gerrard, Carragher, Hyypia, Alonso and Hamann belongs Dirk Kuyt. What he lacked in technique he more than made up for with his incredible work-rate. Inexplicably derided by some, his true worth was always recognised by the majority of fans or in fact anyone who knows anything about the game. The best way to gauge his popularity would be to read the avalanche of tributes paid to him this Jubilee weekend. A royal send-off in more ways than one.
So Farewell Dirk – a great man and a great player but above all a Working Class Hero.