Born in the tiny fishing village of Katwijk aan Zee, Dirk Kuyt has brought his unglamorous qualities of grit and determination to bear on the Netherlands national team here at the FIFA World Cup™.
Not the flashiest of players, the Liverpool striker – equally at home playing out wide – puts in the hard minutes in each and every game, fighting for every ball, tracking back to help defend and even chipping in with the odd goal. And while some might bemoan the lack of carefree style in this organised incarnation of the Oranje, renowned through the years for their invention and panache, Kuyt stresses their focus on one thing: points.
"Who could complain about these results," he asks FIFA.com rhetorically. "Six points from two games is as much as any team can hope for," adds the man who did all the yeoman work in the 1-0 win over Japan in Durban, having scored an opportunistic goal in their opening 2-0 victory over Denmark. "It's very important to start a tournament like the World Cup with positive results, and then build from there."
The Netherlands can afford to relax a little in their final Group E match against already-eliminated Cameroon, having become the first team to secure passage to the Round of 16. However, Kuyt is unlikely to rest on his laurels. Gone, it seems, are the days of Total Football and the 'sexy football' with which the twice FIFA World Cup runners-up became the nearly men of the global game.
"What I try to do as a player is work hard, fight for the ball," he says, half-laughing at the suggestion that he has become the symbol of this new, pragmatic Dutch approach. "Obviously every team wants to perform well, play well, get the good results and score more goals and great goals, but this is the World Cup and every opponent can hurt you," says the player who began his professional career with FC Utrecht before hitting 71 goals in 100 appearances for Feyenoord, where he was predictably adored by the working-class supporters in Rotterdam.
Kuyt earned his first cap for the Netherlands under former boss Marco van Basten. His inclusion then was a surprise to many but he has since amassed 65 international appearances and was a member of the Dutch side that flattered to deceive at UEFA EURO 2008, losing out to Russia after looking in the group stages like the swashbuckling Oranje sides of old with heavy wins over France and Italy. It is something the player is eager to avoid here in South Africa, as the Dutch aim for their first world title.
"There is nothing wrong with sitting back a little and waiting for your chances and being patient," he said to FIFA.com after the 1-0 win against Japan which looked the epitome of patience on a football field. "We've been controlling our games here. We know we have the players to create the one or two chances that we'll need to get goals. We are the kind of team that will always create chances."
It seems as if the Dutch have struck a balance between the brilliance of old and the realities of the modern game. With world stars like Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie pulling the strings and the likes of Kuyt, Nigel de Jong and Marc van Bommel putting in the muscle and work, they might well have a chance at putting the old disappointments right. For Kuyt, it is so far, so good at least. "We have controlled both of the games, waited for our chances and scoring when we pushed forward. I couldn't be happier with the way things are going."