Classy Huntelaar thinking big
© AFP

It's a hard life being a striker. Just ask Klaas Jan Huntelaar. FIFA.com caught up with the Ajax and Netherlands hitman after a lengthy training session at the Amsterdam club's complex, just across from the Arena. As he headed back to the changing rooms, however, a bag of footballs slung across his shoulder, the man they call The Hunter was tracked down by a group of fresh-faced youngsters, all of them eager for his autograph. The Eredivisie's latest star took the impromptu ten-minute session in his stride, though, and was in relaxed mood as he chatted about life in the spotlight.

FIFA.com: With Wesley Sneijder and Ryan Babel having left in the close season do you regret not moving on yourself this summer?
Klaas Jan Huntelaar: Not at all. I thought Sneijder was staying to be honest. He gave a press conference and said he wasn't going anywhere, but Real made a fantastic offer and he changed his mind. I'm not disappointed about that. I'm happy at Ajax but his departure has weakened the team, and that's something I wasn't expecting.

On top of that, failure to qualify for the UEFA Champions League must have been difficult to take. How do you explain your surprise elimination from the competition?
The Champions League was one of my two main objectives along with the Dutch championship, so it was a huge disappointment of course. We didn't deserve to go through, though. We didn't perform well and they stopped us from playing our usual game. It's impossible to qualify when you don't manage to score a goal over two matches. I was annoyed with myself because I missed a penalty at 0-0 in the first leg and they scored just afterwards. That was the turning point. Maybe, though, it was too early in the season and the team hadn't really gelled at that time.

Have you set yourself any personal goalscoring targets for this season?
What I do depends on the team. If we're not playing well, it will be hard for me to reach my objective, which is to score between 25 and 35 goals. Getting more than that would be amazing, but the usual mark for the Dutch league is around 20-25 goals.

Which areas of your game do you think you can improve?
You have to work on every area but I would say that physical fitness is absolutely essential, especially in big games. I need to stay sharp and keep my speed up over 90 minutes, from the kick-off right through to the final whistle. That's fundamental.

You completed your apprenticeship with PSV. Why didn't you stay on there?
I was there for two years and when I turned 18 I was loaned out to De Graafschap, where I'd played between the ages of 10 and 16, and then to AgoVV. When I went back to PSV the second time, I wasn't playing and the club didn't offer me anything specific. I just wanted to play and work on my game and Ajax was the best club for doing that. What's more I've always supported Ajax and it was a dream for me to come here. It's the ideal club for improving your game and moving up to new levels.

Are you planning on moving abroad to a more high-profile league such as the Premiership?
Naturally I'd love to go and play abroad. I'm a big fan of the Premiership because of the atmosphere there, the passion, the history and the enthusiasm of the fans. If you go there and succeed then you're bound to make a big impact. That said I also like the Spanish league a lot and I would never close the door on Italy, Germany of France either.

Let's talk a little about the Dutch national team now. Ever since the days of Cruyff every generation seems to have produced a great striker: van Basten, Kluivert and van Nistelrooij, for example. Many people see you as the next in line. Does that kind of thing put extra pressure on you?
The only pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself. It's a great honour to be called up to the national side, but other people will never put as much pressure on me as I put on myself.

Marco Van Basten has decided to put his faith in youth, something he has been criticised for. Do you think that a new generation has taken over in the Oranje?
There is a new generation, and they know what they have to achieve. It's up to all of us now to create a cycle - that's something you can't do on your own. We've got a lot of really talented players aged between 20 and 24, but building a team is more than just about a bunch of individuals. The Greece side of 2004 is the perfect example of that. When you've got a lot of stars, their egos get in the way and that just makes the coach's job even more difficult because he has to try and handle all the individuals. The higher the expectations, the greater the chance of failure too. People expect immediate results and it's what happens in the short-term that seems to matter more than anything else.

You have become a star in the Netherlands at a relatively young age. How do you cope with that?
I just concentrate on what's happening on the pitch and I don't let what they say in the media affect me, not that I read the papers that much anyway. I'm really not bothered about what goes on off the pitch, except for the fans of course. Being recognised everywhere you go is difficult sometimes but fame is just part of the job.

Do you think signing autographs and having your photo taken with youngsters after training is part of your job too?
Absolutely, it's perfectly normal. When I was a kid I used to have posters of players in my room and dream about meeting them. To me that's natural. And in situations like that, it's all or nothing. If I stop for one kid, I have to stop for all of them. It's a pleasure, though.