When Dirk Kuyt tries to collect a long pass out of the air it’s like the the scene in the nature channel documentary when the gazelle eludes the mountain lion. The cat gets a paw on his prey, but cannot take the thing down. The ball scoots out of Kuyt’s reach and he helplessly chases after it. A swifter carnivore pounces on the ball, and Liverpool lose possession.
Half his first touches are awful. He’s missed out on a fair amount of chances, only bagging 10 goals in 34 appearances. He is sometimes clumsy. He is often awkward.
And he’s one of Liverpool’s most important players.
If you don’t watch him often or closely you might wonder why
he’s a top choice starter for Liverpool and why he keeps garnering caps with the Dutch. He’s certainly nowhere near as fluid or prolific as Fernando Torres. While his low goal tally can be attributed to the fact that Rafa Benitez employs him more as a winger than as a forward, he doesn’t have the speed to burn past a full back and his long cross isn’t particularly deadly.
If you don’t watch him often or closely his blunders might overshadow his effectiveness. Somehow they stick out more for Kuyt, perhaps because his choppy style is screaming for him to be dispossessed. Torres makes blunders too—but they seem more forgivable because they are so damn graceful. Kuyk looks awkward even when he’s making a brilliant play that results in a goal. So we deem him a bungler even though he’s diligently rescued some key points for Liverpool this season.
What Kuyt lacks in dribbling and finesse, he makes up for in his knack for stripping the ball of opposition players, a shinning example was when he dispossessed Cristiano Ronaldo in one of Manchester United’s few serious attacks when they hosted Liverpool in March. His on-the-pitch diligence means even though his first touch fails him at times, he directly contributes to Liverpool’s ability to hold onto the ball.
While his goal scoring won’t break any records this season, his moments of glory have been pivotal, however infrequent. In consecutive matches against Wigan Athletic and Manchester City, Kuyt scored the late winner after Liverpool had been behind. Against Portsmouth he scored an 84th minute equalizer (Torres later nabbed the winner.) He also equalized in Liverpool’s other match against Manchester City, scoring in the 78th to secure a point.
Despite not being the paciest player in the world, Kuyt somehow seems to be in all places at all times. He’ll pop up in the back corner to dig out the ball from an attackers grasp. Then he’ll appear in the box to lay the ball off to another attacker. Though he doesn’t have the traditional qualities of a winger, he succeeds there simply out of sheer determination. He burrows in toward the box, searching for that short pass to Torres or Gerrard or he kicks the ball back out to Arbeloa for the cross.
In an upcoming transfer window I could certainly see Liverpool going after a talented outright right winger. If this is the case, Kuyt’s usefulness will not have expired. His versatility means he can play in midfield or up front. He’ll be a brilliant squad player, coming on for a tired striker or winger, and his work ethic means he won’t let being a sub deter him or wound his ego.
When we think of great football attackers we think of players with flair and ability like Torres, Ronaldo or Messi. But the Dirk Kuyts of the sport have their undeniable place too: the inexhaustable workhorses. Their contribution is not always as obvious, but it exists in abundance. And though Torres and Gerrard will continue to be regarded as Liverpool’s key hitmen, Kuyt will be there, stripping, assisting, turning and scoring. Whatever it takes: that’s his job.