For former Barcelona and Netherlands striker Patrick Kluivert, the recognition he receives in the form of ‘selfie’ requests wherever he goes are signs that his contribution to world football - from his UEFA Champions League-winning strike for Ajax Amsterdam in 1995 all the way to his assistant coaching role for the Oranje at Brazil 2014 - have been well-remembered. He handles each one with the same ease and poise with which he scored goals, such as the sumptuous FIFA World Cup™ semi-final headed equaliser against Brazil at France 1998.
Calling that late strike in Marseille one of his greatest football memories, the former AC Milan and Newcastle United striker recalls team-mates remarking that he seemed to be flying at the moment when he headed the ball. The current head coach and advisor for Curacao will hope to get the Caribbean island nation off to a flying start in their World Cup qualifying campaign this month against Montserrat, with another contest against Cuba on the cards. On a stop-over in Qatar he talked to www.sc.qa about Barcelona’s outlook against Manchester City, offered a clear prediction for Sunday’s much-anticipated El Clasico match, and added that based on his observations, the world will be surprised by the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™.
Patrick, this is a crucial week for your former side Barcelona, where your partnership with Rivaldo is still fondly remembered. How do you see the team ahead of the two crucial fixtures at Camp Nou?
Patrick Kluivert:They had a very good result in Manchester. Of course the game won’t be easy, but I think they will go through for sure, because they are playing at home and with a lot of confidence. It is also one match before the big El Clasico, so they will want to have a good result. With Bayern Munich, PSG and Real Madrid they are really one of the teams which can go all the way to the final.
You have played in the match yourself and know how difficult they are to win. Would you venture a prediction for Sunday’s El Clasico?
Barcelona will win 3-1.
You played together with Luis Enrique at FC Barcelona, now you have both embarked on coaching careers. How have you seen his development?
He has been a great player at many big clubs. As a coach you always get criticism, but that is the way it is. He knows the power of the media, and you have to take the criticism sometimes. But now he is smiling, first of all because they have one more point than Real Madrid, and it looks very good in the Champions League. He can go to the final and also win the Champions League, so he has nothing to complain about.
As a clinical world-class striker yourself, how do you see Messi and Ronaldo, the two outstanding players who will face off in El Clasico once more on Sunday?
Both players are amazing. The most important thing is that they both play in Spain. If one was in Spain and one in England, the rivalry would be different. But let’s be honest, both are the best in the world, and then come Robben and others. Messi is a unique player, his left foot is like gold. Everything he touches is like gold. As he walks on the pitch, he knows that if Barcelona gets the ball he will get the ball. He walks to the free space, every time they get the ball they look to Messi first. He is one of a kind, I like him very much.
You played an important role as assistant coach for the Netherlands at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil where your team reached the semi-finals. How did it feel to finish third?
We had a great team, and the nice thing about it was that people in Holland didn’t really think we could make it that far. First of all we changed the system, and secondly we had players who knew we had a big opportunity to achieve something. If you look back now it was a great experience, for me and also the players. We went to the semi-finals, we lost a tight game against Argentina. From the first match against Spain, which was amazing how we turned around 1-0 against us to win 5-1, most people were surprised match after match to see how far we went. We were in a very positive flow.
You will be aiming to maintain that momentum in your new role as head coach and advisor of Curacao. How important is it to get off to a winning start to your 2018 World Cup qualifiers at the end of this month?
The federation called and asked if I could do it. It was personally very nice because my mother is from Curacao, and I have a lot of family over there, plus I know that I’ve got some good players. They are not perhaps good enough to go to Holland, but via a different route they can play high-level football. From the moment I signed for them, a lot of players woke up and said they wanted to play for the island, as they are eligible to play if their mother or father comes from Curacao. You have to be proud to help the island a little bit further, I felt like I could do something for Curacao. We play Montserrat, and potentially after that Cuba, so I’m looking forward to it.
You had a chance today to see the plans and progress for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar. What impressions did you take away with you?
The explanations I had are really very clear, it is going to happen and I am really excited about the plans. The stadiums are looking fabulous, and the most important thing is that the spectators will be comfortable. What they showed me confirms that this will be the case. There are still seven years to go, so they are on a good way to improve everything; I am really enthusiastic about this.
Have you also had an insight into what legacy a FIFA World Cup in this region can leave behind?
I think it will be futuristic, if you look at the stadiums and also the legacy which Qatar wants to achieve. They want to build stadiums and if other countries need to use them then they can. Also for the youth it is very important; it will serve for education and learning new things. Some people are talking about things they haven’t seen and only the negative things, but if they really look at these plans they will have a different view, many people will be very surprised.
Do you think the first FIFA World Cup in the Middle East can inspire a new generation of young players from the Arab world?
Absolutely, it has to be like that. For legacy you have to encourage the youth to play and train more. That is one thing that is very important, if they see this big event they will be inspired to train and do something more outside.
You have seen the recommendation to play the tournament in November and December 2022. As a former player, what impact do you think this will have on performances?
I think the performance, mainly of the players who play in England with the national team, will be better than playing a World Cup after a long season. So this is very important. This is a change and everywhere in the world changes are going to be happening. Sometimes one country has to be the first one, and I think that this World Cup is going to be an eye-opener for a lot of people.
Could you imagine yourself coaching the Dutch national team one day – at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar perhaps?
I don’t do predictions, but you never know. The most important thing for me at the moment is to do well with the Curacao national team. Then my ambition is to be head coach in a big team and from there on we will see what the future brings. But sure, why not, I never say never.