A household name for some 16 years now, it is easy to forget that Patrick Kluivert is still only 34. Indeed the former Netherlands and Barcelona star could probably still be competing at a very high level had he not called time on his playing career in 2008. Now the towering Dutchman is enjoying the many opportunities open to him, though unsurprisingly he remains heavily involved in the beautiful game.
In Barcelona recently for an appearance at the FIFA Interactive World Cup, Kluivert chatted exclusively to FIFA.com about his colourful career, his decision to retire and, of course, the imminent 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
So what has Patrick Kluivert been up to recently? Seeing him here, youthful and fit, it is strange not to think of him as being with a top European side. “After seeing out my contract with Lille in France two years ago, I decided to hang up my boots and concentrate on getting my coaching badges, which I was able to do in a year and a half – a very short time. I have my licence now but I’m waiting a little while before deciding what to do next,“ says the Dutchman.
But surely he must miss the thrill of playing, the adulation of his fans and the cut and thrust of battle? “At times yes, but I’m very satisfied with my career and what I achieved during it. To be honest with you, if I’d continued playing it would’ve just been frustrating, as I wouldn’t have been able to attain the level I once had. All in all, I’m happy with my decision and with this new chapter in my life,” he says with sincerity.
With South Africa 2010 just around the corner, the talk naturally turns to the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France, where, at just 21, Kluivert was one of the stars of the tournament. “It was a bittersweet World Cup,” he recalls nostalgically. “I was sent off in our first game against Belgium and got a two-match ban, but I came back to score our opening goal in the quarter-final against Argentina and another in the semis against Brazil."
I’m happy with my decision and with this new chapter in my life.
"On a personal level I was pleased but unfortunately we lost that game in a penalty shootout – which has become something of a curse for us. It has to end someday, however, and hopefully sooner rather than later.”
Many candidates, one favourite
As a distinguished former Oranje international, Kluivert is well qualified to assess the chances of Bert van Marwijk’s current crop. “I’d like them to reach the Final, even if that’s a very big ask. The Netherlands have a very good side but the players need to arrive in top condition. If that happens, though, then they could go very far. It’s also a very young squad, which is a double-edged sword. Their lack of experience could be a significant factor, especially at decisive moments, but age aside, this is a group with immense quality and hunger for victory,” says the Amsterdam native.
Asked for his favourites for this year’s showpiece event, the Dutchman singles out a team many are tipping to go far in South Africa. “Argentina could be a candidate so long as they build the team around Lionel Messi, like Barça do. In reality it will all depend on whether the players arrive in peak condition and injury-free. With so little to choose between the top sides, that will determine who becomes world champions.”
The former Blaugrana marksman was fulsome in his praise of Barça’s Argentinian star, saying: “Messi is a phenomenon, a class apart and a natural talent. The level he’s at is just exceptional. If I’d played alongside him, I would’ve scored so many goals,” he says with a grin and a little hint of nostalgia.
Lastly, Kluivert was also happy to give his take on the enthralling La Liga title race between his former side and their arch-rivals Real Madrid. So who does he think will finally be celebrating next weekend? “Barcelona, of course! Having played there the club will always be close to my heart,” he concludes.