Makaay: Spain are the clear favourites
© AFP

“You have to be 11 friends!" legendary coach Sepp Herberger once said. It is a phrase that has passed into German footballing lore.

But certain mischief-makers liked to jest that any team containing Roy Makaay was already down to ten. The striker was nicknamed 'The Phantom', which you could plausibly interpret as 'invisible spirit' or 'ghostly presence'. Critics accused the former Netherlands international of disappearing during matches and refusing to get involved in his team's build-up play. However, his knack was to appear in the opposition penalty area from nowhere and ruthlessly force the ball home.

So, was he the invisible man? “No, that's not why they gave me the nickname," a laughing Makaay informed FIFA.com. “It stems from a period when I scored in stoppage time for three matches in a row."

Bayern success, Oranje outcast
Rudolphus Antonius Makaay, to give the former player his full name, was rarely labelled egotistical or selfish in a pro career spanning almost 20 years. Instead, Makaay was generally praised as a likeable, honest team player. After earning his goalscoring spurs with Vitesse Arnheim, Tenerife and Deportivo, where he won the Golden Boot as Europe's top goalscorer in 2002/03, he moved to Bayern Munich for some €20m, making him the Bavarians’ record signing at the time. “I had the best period of my career there, not just on the pitch, but also in my personal and private life," he said.

For as long as anyone can remember, we've played in a 4-3-3 formation with only one central striker, and I was up against great players like Ruud van Nistelrooij, which wasn't easy.
Roy Makaay on his lack of appearances for the Netherlands

The feeling was mutual, as was demonstrated once again in the supporting programme for the UEFA Champions League final just a few weeks ago, when Makaay pulled on a Bayern shirt as part of an all-star match. The Dutchman then witnessed the dramatic final between his former club and Chelsea live at the stadium.

Makaay's exploits at club level brought him a raft of honours and medals, but he was denied an equally stellar career with his national team, finishing on six goals in 43 appearances for the Netherlands between 1996 and 2005. The totals are very modest for a prolific striker of his calibre.

“For as long as anyone can remember, we've played in a 4-3-3 formation with only one central striker, and I was up against great players like Ruud van Nistelrooij, which wasn't easy," reasoned Makaay, who made his country's squad for the UEFA EURO in 2000 and 2004 but never appeared at the FIFA World Cup™. Missing out on the 2006 global showdown in Germany was particularly painful, as he was still on Bayern's books at the time. “It definitely left a sour taste, but it can't be changed and I still look back on my career with great satisfaction," he declared.

EURO 2012 tips, painful Beijing memories
He has every right to do so, although there was also to be no major honour with the Netherlands, as both Makaay's European championship adventures ended in semi-final defeats. He fears a similar fate may yet lie in wait for the South Africa 2010 runners-up in Poland and Ukraine this summer.

“Spain are the world and European champions and the clear favourites," Makaay said. "They’re followed by Germany and the Netherlands, who were both excellent at the World Cup. And France, Italy and England are fringe contenders."

Makaay showed 100 per cent commitment right to the end of his career, often playing through the pain, as a tale originating in 2008 shows. He travelled to Beijing for the Men's Olympic Football Tournament in 2008 as captain of the Netherlands side, with the stated goal of coming home with a medal. But it was not to be: in the first match, a goalless draw with Nigeria, Makaay had to come off at half-time and was taken to hospital complaining of pain in his foot.

He explained: “They couldn't find anything. They gave me painkillers, and I started on the bench against USA (a 2-2 draw) before coming on as a substitute. We had to beat Japan in our third match if we were to make the next stage, so I played the full 90 minutes (the Dutch won 1-0). Straight after the final whistle we went back to hospital, and it turned out I'd played since the first match with a broken bone in my foot. So that was the end of my tournament."

In the absence of the captain, the Oranje fell to eventual gold medallists Argentina, an extra-time goal sealing a 2-1 defeat and a quarter-final exit. “Obviously we'd have liked to win a medal, but there's no shame in losing to Argentina,” Makaay noted. “They had a world-class team with the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Angel di Maria and Javier Mascherano.”

Second career in coaching
As for Makaay, he returned to his home country and joined Feyenoord, before hanging up his boots in Rotterdam in 2010. He has remained at the club as a youth coach, a challenge he says he finds extremely enjoyable.

The Dutchman boasts one unusual but proud personal stat as the scorer of the fastest goal in UEFA Champions League history, the opener for Bayern against Real Madrid after 10.03 seconds of a Round of 16 return leg in 2007. He makes no secret of the deep impression made on him by his spell in Munich. Asked if he could see himself one day taking charge at a top-flight club, he answered in perfect Bavarian with a phrase made famous by Franz Beckenbauer: "Schaun mer mal! (Let’s wait and see!)"