African duo rise in Lowlands
With Blaise N'Kufo out of form, Roy Makaay a victim of Feyenoord's poor season and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar now plying his trade for Real Madrid, two new sharp-shooters have been grabbing the headlines in the Dutch Eredivisie: Mounir El Hamdaoui and Matthew Amoah. With 25 goals between them this season, they have been major contributors to the impressive form of their respective clubs, AZ Alkmaar and NAC Breda. For both players, it represents pay-back for a number of years hard graft without much reward.
Ghanaian Amoah came to the Netherlands at the age of 18 and spent seven years at Vitesse Arnhem, including a decent 1999/2000 season spent on loan at Fortuna Sittard under Bert van Marwijk. In the winter of 2005, Van Marwijk took him to Germany and Borussia Dortmund, but Amoah was unfortunately not up to the task, playing only 17 times in a year and a half without scoring a single goal, much to the player's and the coach's chagrin.
Premier League comes calling
Ironically, this period was when Amoah was making a name for himself with Ghana's Black Stars, scoring three goals in the qualifying rounds for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™. Unfortunately, however, this was not enough to offset his failure to find the target for Dortmund, and modest NAC Breda were the only team ready to offer him regular football in the summer of 2007. His first season there showed potential, but no-one could have expected him to explode as he has done since August 2008, enjoying the best season of his career so far.
Clubs are finally beginning to sit up and take notice, particularly in the Premier League. "My agent hasn't told me anything but I read the papers and surf the Internet, so I know what people are saying. I'm under contract for another year at Breda and I'm happy here, so I'll take things as they come," says Amoah, who is unlikely to move on during the January window. "My dream is to play in England one day, but anything can happen in football and I could even end up in Italy or France."
'Never given a real chance'
Mounir El Hamdaoui also seems to be on the road to redemption this season and is experiencing a veritable renaissance. Since coming back to the Netherlands from Tottenham Hotspur in January 2005, the former Excelsior Rotterdam starlet is finally showing what he is capable of. "This is actually the first time that I'm getting a real chance to play, but I don't feel any desire for revenge," explains the protégé of Louis van Gaal - a man who has always believed in El Hamdaoui's talents, saying: "I told you all last year that he could score 20 goals in a season, and he's well on the way to achieving that."
Whether it was at Spurs, Derby County or Willem II, the Eredivisie's current top scorer with 14 goals always seemed to get injured at just the wrong moment. Two years ago, for example, he netted three times in four days, only to spend the next six months on the sidelines - all on top of two lengthy absences during his time in England. All this, however, helps the 24-year-old to maintain a sense of perspective. "Training with players like Kluivert and Arveladze was really useful to me, I learnt a lot. Afterwards, you have to show what you've learned in a match situation, and I'm managing to do that this season since I finally seem to be over my knee injury. I've always been a born scorer, I just needed to prove it. I've always believed in myself as well, but it's amazing how quickly things are happening."
'AZ can't afford to think about the title'
Unlike Amoah, Mounir dreams of playing in Spain's Primera Division, "the best league in the world", but in the meantime, winning the title with AZ Alkmaar is his number one priority. That said, prudence remains the watchword for the Moroccan international: "We can't afford to think about it too much, it would be the end of us. We just need to keep on working hard. We have to trust our instinct and our intuition. AZ could well be champions, but we shouldn't dwell on that prospect." Van Gaal says much the same, pointing out that "winners' medals aren't given out until the end of the season". Come what may, expect Mounir and Mathew's duel for for the season's top-scorer award to continue to enthrall fans in the Eredivisie.