Blaise Nkufo has come a long way in his 17-year professional career, both literally and metaphorically. Following a nomadic first decade that took in spells at nine different clubs, he has had just one sporting home for the last for seven seasons: Twente Enschede.
Following sojourns in Switzerland, Qatar and Germany, the striker switched to the Dutch top flight in 2003 where he finally put down roots. Since his transfer from Bundesliga side Hannover 96, the Kinshasa-born (DR Congo) front man has not just become a crowd favourite with the current Eredivisie leaders, he has also created history as the club’s all-time record goalscorer.
“In Switzerland, people often didn’t recognise my true potential. Then when I went to the German 2nd division, the move was misinterpreted. That was primarily a springboard to get to the Bundesliga, which was my objective. Finally, I moved to the Netherlands, where my performances are properly appreciated,” said Nkufo in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
Success over adversity
His early years were also somewhat challenging. Nkufo was born in May 1975 in the former Zaire. When he was just seven, he and his family were forced to flee from the country's unrest, making a new life in Switzerland.
There things would improve dramatically for Nkufo. In Lausanne, he completed his Matura, the highest available school-leaving certificate in Switzerland, and at 20, he obtained a Swiss passport, enabling him to wear the Helvetian national shirt.
The striker made his debut for Switzerland back in September 2000 but left the national fold just two years later following differences of opinion with then coach Kobi Kuhn. Nkufo’s sabbatical from the Nati lasted more than five years, causing him to miss the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, where his peers reached the Round of 16.
Twente turned the tide
“Twente helped me after my difficult time with the national team. I worked hard and I came back,” he says, now able to smile at those testing years at the turn of the millennium.
In August 2007, Nkufo was recalled by Kuhn and quickly becoming a valued member of the Swiss squad. However, he would miss UEFA EURO 2008 when injury denied him the opportunity to shine in front of his home fans. Now, the powerfully built marksman has his sights set on the upcoming 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa – what would be the first major tournament of his protracted career.
Only further injury heartbreak seems capable of keeping Nkufo away from this year’s global showdown. His performances at club level have been exceptional for several years and, under coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, this father of two is enjoying a sustained run in the national team, for whom he has now won 29 caps.
The celebrated former Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich coach has already shown his faith in the attributes of his oldest squad member. The striker was deployed in all ten qualifying games for the finals in South Africa, contributing five goals towards the successful campaign.
“Nkufo has class and really adds something. He’s not what you would call distrustfu,l but he is cautious. He’s not brash either,” said Hitzfeld on taking up the Nati coaching reins.
And Hitzfeld’s appreciation is reciprocated by the player, as he told FIFA.com: “He’s impressed upon us his main tactical and technical objectives and his motto is quite simple: in football, you must act and not react. He gives new players a chance and wants to increase competition for places to improve the balance of the team. He’s also made it clear that selection for the national team is dependent on performances for your club.”
Icon in the Netherlands
On current form, Nkufo will have few concerns about his place in the Swiss squad. The striker has been outstanding for a number of years and been instrumental in his club’s success at domestic and international levels.
The current league season could not be progressing much better for the Swiss player and his team-mates. With four games remaining, Twente are four points clear of Ajax and well placed to claim their first silverware since 2001 (Dutch Cup) and first championship since 1926, when Twente Enschede were still known as Sportclub Enschede.
Nkufo’s own tally for the season stands at 11 goals in 28 games, the latest coming in last weekend’s 2-0 away win over VVV Venlo. The 34-year-old has netted 112 times in total for his club and last August surpassed former Dutch international Jan Jeuring as Twente’s all-time leading goalscorer.
When the FIFA World Cup is over, Nkufo is set to leave the Dutch capital for the USA in one final change of club. He signed a contract with Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders in March this year, which will see him join such footballing giants as goalkeeper Kasey Keller and midfielder Freddie Ljungberg for his last great adventure.