Next up in our Throwback Thursday series, where we bring you a profiling of some of the games most iconic names, is Marco Van Basten.
Despite never winning the big one, The Netherlands have produced some of the most famous players of all time, Johan Cryuff, Edwin Van Der Sar, and Ruud Gullit just to name a few. Van Basten is a name that will forever be etched into football history, so let’s take a look back through his career and see what built his legendary legacy.
His style of play is well renowned for being technically excellent. He possessed an amazing attacking intelligence and was a clinical finisher. His height and strength allowed him to excel in the air, and his technical ability and agility saw him execute spectacular strikes, such as volleys and bicycle kicks, throughout his career.
He wasn’t just a goal scorer he was also a provider. He had the ability to drop back and provide assists for his team mates with his excellent vision and distribution. Despite his large stature, Van Basten possessed excellent technical skills and ball control, as well as good balance and a notable elegance on the ball, which inspired his nickname: “The Swan of Utrecht.”
One excellent testimony to the talent of Van Basten came from Argentina legend Diego Maradona who was asked who the greatest player he’s ever saw was. Maradona said it was between the Brazilian Romario and Van Basten.
Like many great Dutch players, Van Basten started his professional career in Amsterdam with domestic giants, Ajax. He did have spells at UVV Utrecht and USV Elinkwijk, but only at youth level.
He made his professional debut in 1982 aged 17. He scored in a 5-0 win for Ajax. The following season an 18 year old Van Basten was competing for the centre forward position against Wim Kieft, who was then the European top goal scorer. Tough competition for anyone, never mind an unknown teenager.
Despite that Van Basten still scored nine goals from 20 league appearances, which was enough to see him win the starting position after Kieft left for Italian side Pisa. Ajax’s decision to put trust into a young Van Basten was not one they would later regret Van Bastan would score 118 league goals in 112 games in the span of four years from 1983-1987.
After winning three Dutch League titles, three Dutch Cup’s and the 1987 UEFA Cup Winners Cup, Van Basten left Ajax.
In 1987 he swap the red and white of Ajax for the iconic red and black of AC Milan. Life at Milan didn’t get of to a great start for Marco, as he only played 11 games in his debut season due to an injury. The following year in 1988 he was joined by fellow countrymen Rudd Gullit, one of the best box to box midfielders of all time (I’m sure we’ll get round to profiling Gullit sooner rather than later), and Frank Rijkaard, a holding midfielder and centre back.
Van Basten would prove to be the star not only of the team, or the league, but the whole continent, as he won the Ballon D’or award for the best European player in 1988. Van Basten would enjoy great success with Milan.
Despite a troublesome ankle injury Van Basten scored, 125 goals in 201 games for Milan across all competitions.
Van Basten enjoyed success with a large number of individual honours, highlighted by three Ballon D’or awards, 1988, 1989, and 1992, he also won the UEFA player of the year in those years. He enjoyed success with Milan winning a number of different club honours, four Serie A titles, four Italian Super Cups, two European Cups, two European Super Cups and two Intercontinental Cups.
Most remarkably however was that he managed to have success with his country. Of all the great Dutch teams over the years it was Van Basten and the 1988 Netherlands side, who where the first and so far only team to win a major competition for the nation. Van Basten played a huge role, as he was the competitions top scorer with five goals.
In that tournament Van Basten scored one of the greatest goals of all time, a superb volley from a tough angle over the top of the goalkeeper.
Unfortunately however Van Basten’s career was cut shorter than it should have been. His final professional game was in the 1993 European Cup Final, a defeat to French side Marseille. Aged only 28 Van Basten would seek help for his ankle which had caused him much bother in his career. After missing the 93-94 and 94-95 season, Van Basten would finally concede defeat in his battle to return to football.
Legendary football manager Fabio Capello had this to say on Van Basten. “Marco was the greatest striker I ever coached. His early retirement was a mortal misfortune for him, for football, and for Milan.”
Van Basten’s love for the game didn’t stop following retirement as a player, he became a coach. His break into management came with Jong Ajax before becoming the manager of his country Netherlands and then former team Ajax. After leaving Ajax he had spells with other Dutch sides Heerenveen and AZ Alkmaar.
Van Basten’s final job in coaching was as an assistant for Netherlands. He announced he would be leaving his role in August 2016 so he could take up a role in FIFA.