Justin Kluiv­ert

A big name on his shoul­ders

Australian Four Four Two - - CONTENTS - Words Arthur Re­nard

The busi­ness class sec­tion of a pri­vate jet, cruis­ing through the air some­where be­tween the Al­garve and Am­s­ter­dam, prob­a­bly isn’t the set­ting you’d ex­pect for a young foot­baller’s big break. As Ajax’s squad re­laxed on their way home from a mid-sea­son train­ing camp in the south of Por­tu­gal last Jan­uary, one of the younger mem­bers of the trav­el­ling party was beck­oned to the va­cant seat next to man­ager Peter Bosz. This had been the fresh-faced player’s first pro­longed ex­po­sure to first-team train­ing, and as such he was only just get­ting his head round the idea that he was a pro­fes­sional. Hav­ing taken a seat next to his gaffer, the young­ster was told he had suf­fi­ciently im­pressed Ajax’s coach­ing staff and would from now on re­main with the first team on a full-time ba­sis. The star­let’s 18th birth­day was still four months away. “I was told I had played well and taken my chance,” Justin Kluiv­ert tells FourFourTwo, a year on. “The coach said that I was an ex­cit­ing player. A lit­tle more than a week later, I was handed my de­but in an away match against PEC Zwolle. That went pretty well too, and after the game every­body was re­ally prais­ing my style. But start­ing well is only do­ing half the job.” Kluiv­ert had cer­tainly made a de­cent first im­pres­sion at the club and, un­sur­pris­ingly, his de­but at­tracted ex­tra at­ten­tion due to the fa­mous name printed across the back of his shirt. Even be­fore that first se­nior ap­pear­ance, pun­dits and fans had been spec­u­lat­ing as to whether the young for­ward could fol­low in the foot­steps of his iconic fa­ther, Pa­trick Kluiv­ert – he of three Ere­di­visie ti­tles, a La Liga crown with Barcelona and an iconic Champions League-winning goal. How­ever, de­spite stand­ing out on his first out­ing for the Am­s­ter­dam club, the younger Kluiv­ert’s dis­play against Zwolle ac­tu­ally went some way to quelling all of the com­par­isons. His ad­ven­tur­ous drib­bles were al­ter­nated with some very clever through-balls. This was a ma­raud­ing winger, rather than a penalty box-dwelling cen­tre for­ward, and a very good one at that. When in­ter­viewed by Dutch broad­caster NOS after that game, Justin re­moved his smart­phone from his pocket and read out a mes­sage he’d re­ceived from his proud papa. “Very good game,” the mes­sage be­gan. “So how good does it feel? In­cred­i­ble, right? And this is just the start.” Kluiv­ert the winger had made his mark on the game, and Kluiv­ert the cen­tre-for­ward agreed. On the day of his de­but, Justin was 17 years and 255 days old. He beat his fa­ther to the Ajax first team by 167 days, not some­thing many had ex­pected to hap­pen, in­clud­ing the young­ster him­self. Only five months ear­lier, dur­ing the sum­mer of 2016, he was still in the un­der-19 squad and had set him­self three hum­ble goals: “My aim was to get into the U19s of the Dutch na­tional team, make my de­but with the U23s of Ajax and then train a few times with the first team,” re­calls Kluiv­ert. “But at the end of that sea­son I was al­most a reg­u­lar starter for the first team, had played sev­eral games in Europe and was even in­cluded in the match­day squad for the Europa League fi­nal,” he says with a con­fi­dent grin. “Things went beau­ti­fully,” he adds, per­haps un­der­stat­ing his own over­achieve­ment. His rapid start at the Am­s­ter­dam Arena is rem­i­nis­cent of his old man, who was also on the bench for a Euro­pean fi­nal at the end of his first sea­son. Once again, Justin was younger than his dad when achiev­ing the feat, though Pa­trick cer­tainly had more of an im­pact on the 1995 Champions League Fi­nal. He clam­bered off the bench to score the only goal of the game in a his­toric vic­tory over Mi­lan. Justin stayed on the side­lines as Ajax lost 2-0 to Manch­ester United. In the com­ing years, the 18-year-old hopes to fol­low in his fa­ther’s il­lus­tri­ous foot­steps and suc­ceed at the high­est level of the Euro­pean game – but Justin isn’t the only Kluiv­ert look­ing to make lift­ing tro­phies a fam­ily busi­ness. Older brother Quincy (20) is in Vitesse Arn­hem’s U23 side, younger sib­ling Ruben (16) is set to join up with AZ Alk­maar next sea­son, while half-brother Shane (10) is al­ready wow­ing spec­ta­tors in the academy at Barcelona. The Cata­lan cap­i­tal is also where Justin spent his for­ma­tive years, in the days when his fa­ther was one of the key fig­ures at the Camp Nou. “After matches, me and my brother Quincy would al­ways go into the chang­ing room, just to get some drinks,” he re­calls. “That was pretty cool. I re­mem­ber one time my brother went in the Jacuzzi!” When Pa­trick moved to New­cas­tle United in 2004, Justin wasn’t able to watch his dad’s games quite so reg­u­larly – his par­ents got di­vorced,

and Justin and his broth­ers moved to the Nether­lands to live with their mum. How­ever, their grandad would of­ten take the three boys on ferry rides over the North Sea to New­cas­tle. The young Kluiv­ert clan saw the trips as a real ad­ven­ture, not that Justin can re­call much of what hap­pened when they ac­tu­ally reached Ty­ne­side – most of Justin’s rec­ol­lec­tions of his fa­ther as a player have come as a re­sult of ret­ro­spec­tive re­search online. “YouTube was where I mostly dis­cov­ered what kind of player he was,” he ad­mits. That’s not to say he doesn’t at least have mem­o­ries of the back end of his dad’s play­ing ca­reer. Justin vividly re­mem­bers be­ing present on the day Pa­trick picked up the fi­nal medal of his highly suc­cess­ful ca­reer, when he won the 2006-07 Ere­di­visie ti­tle with PSV in what’s still re­garded as one of the most un­for­get­table fi­nales in the his­tory of the com­pe­ti­tion. The Eind­hoven out­fit started the day in third place – level on points with both Ajax and Louis van Gaal’s AZ Alk­maar but with a goal dif­fer­ence one worse than the cap­i­tal club and seven worse than AZ. PSV romped to a 5-1 vic­tory over Vitesse at the Philips Sta­dion and lis­tened with glee as news fil­tered through that, not only had AZ sur­pris­ingly lost 3-2 to Ex­cel­sior, but Ajax had only won 2-0 away at Willem II. It meant Kluiv­ert the El­der could pop a third Dutch ti­tle-win­ners’ medal on his man­tel­piece. “I re­mem­ber that match and the ex­cite­ment,” Justin re­calls fondly. “After the match, we were able to go on the pitch to cel­e­brate. It was a great mo­ment for us all.” By that stage, Justin had al­ready started play­ing the game him­self. He kicked off at the am­a­teur club ASV De Dijk in Am­s­ter­dam, the very same side at which Pa­trick had be­gun his ca­reer 20-odd years ear­lier (back then, they were called ASV Schelling­woude). Like his dad, Justin soon moved on, and by 2007 he’d been drafted into Ajax’s academy. How­ever, he still en­joyed the oc­ca­sional kick­about with his friends. Justin prac­tised his skills by spend­ing hours play­ing on Am­s­ter­dam’s streets. “I was liv­ing next to a play­ground, where I would al­ways play football with my broth­ers and friends,” he says. “Nowa­days young­sters don’t play out­side much, which is a shame as I think you learn your ba­sic skills on the streets. It’s so im­por­tant.” How­ever, Kluiv­ert re­veals he didn’t stand out dur­ing his early years in Ajax’s renowned academy. “I was never the best player in my team,” he says. “I re­mem­ber, for in­stance, when I was with the U15s, many of my team-mates jumped up to the U17 side, while I was just moved on to the U16s in­stead. “At the end of ev­ery sea­son we would have eval­u­a­tions in which you were told whether you’d be stay­ing at the club or mov­ing on. In those mo­ments, I’ve got to ad­mit, the thought of be­ing sent away did cross my mind, and some of my pals were let go. For­tu­nately, things re­ally took off for me when I played with the U17 team. I had ma­tured and started to no­tice that I had some ex­tra qual­i­ties the other play­ers did not. That was the mo­ment when I re­alised I had a real op­por­tu­nity to be­come a pro­fes­sional.” As Kluiv­ert’s con­fi­dence grew, his move­ment through the youth ranks ac­cel­er­ated. He soon switched from the U17s to the U19s, and within an­other year the teenager had se­cured a place in Ajax’s U23 team for the 2016-17 cam­paign. By De­cem­ber 2016, Justin had al­ready hit the afore­men­tioned trio of tar­gets for the sea­son when he made his de­but for the Dutch U19 side and was in­vited to train with Ajax’s se­nior squad for the first time. That trip to the Al­garve and his first-team de­but fol­lowed soon after, and he’s barely looked back since, es­tab­lish­ing him­self as an im­por­tant mem­ber of the squad. Hav­ing played pre­dom­i­nantly on the right wing in his early ap­pear­ances, this sea­son he has switched to his favoured left flank. As 2017 pro­gressed, Kluiv­ert con­tin­ued to stand out with his drib­bles, brav­ery on the ball and long-range shoot­ing. His best dis­play was, with­out a doubt, in the Ere­di­visie game against Roda JC, when he blasted home a sen­sa­tional hat-trick in a 5-1 win. All three of his goals were some­what sim­i­lar, with the wide­man cut­ting in­side from the left wing be­fore fir­ing home with his right foot. Yet, he doesn’t con­sider the match the pin­na­cle of his ca­reer so far. “It was great, but my high­light has been the Europa League fi­nal, even though I didn’t play,” he says of last May’s show­down with Man United in Stock­holm. “Such an oc­ca­sion is unique and just to be there was so spe­cial. You won’t ex­pe­ri­ence that very of­ten. “You could feel the im­pact it had all over Hol­land. Some of my friends sent me im­ages of peo­ple out on the streets watch­ing on mas­sive TV screens. It made for a feel­ing as if ev­ery­one in the coun­try, or at least in Am­s­ter­dam, was sup­port­ing us.” Be­fore the fi­nal, Justin made sure to pick his fa­ther’s brain to get an idea of what he should ex­pect of such a show­piece. “Of course I asked him about some of his ex­pe­ri­ences, be­cause he’d par­tic­i­pated in a Euro­pean fi­nal be­fore,” he says. “He gave me ad­vice be­fore­hand, like to keep calm and just play my own game if I got any min­utes on the pitch.”


Un­for­tu­nately for Kluiv­ert he didn’t get a run-out, but he did catch the eye of the man in the op­pos­ing dugout. Jose Mour­inho knew all about Justin – in fact, the pair go way back, all the way to the days when the Spe­cial One was the as­sis­tant coach at Barcelona, and Pa­trick Kluiv­ert was on the play­ing staff. The Manch­ester United man­ager made a bee­line for the young Kluiv­ert after the fi­nal whis­tle. “He said it was nice to see me again after such a long time, be­cause he had known me when I was a baby,” he re­veals. “And he said it was nice to see that I was do­ing well.” Kluiv­ert in­sists Mour­inho didn’t try to prise him away to Old Traf­ford, but spec­u­la­tion persists that United are among a host of Premier League clubs mon­i­tor­ing him. There’s even been ru­mours that Lionel Messi has asked Barcelona’s board to bring the star­let to the Camp Nou, 20 years after his fa­ther first ar­rived in Cat­alo­nia. “I’ve heard that as well,” says Justin. “But I re­ally don’t know if it’s true. I’m not in con­tact with Messi. Only he knows whether that hap­pened, but it’s nice to hear.” Messi, it should be noted, was in the Barça academy when Pa­trick was lead­ing the first team’s at­tack, and is a known ad­mirer of a man who scored more than 120 goals in six years at the club. His iconic sur­name may some­times make Kluiv­ert the cen­tre of at­ten­tion, but he’s never seen it as a bur­den. “I’m calm and down to earth with those kind of things,” he says. “In fact, I love to play with this name, as it’s like an hon­our. And maybe I can even ex­pand the name and be even bet­ter – that would be great.” Hav­ing spent a year as Paris Saint-Ger­main tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor, Kluiv­ert se­nior is now back at Barça, where he keeps a keen eye on the progress of young Shane – the youngest mem­ber of the fam­ily and a re­cent in­ductee to the Cata­lans’ fa­bled La Ma­sia academy. Shane may only be 10, but he’s al­ready ac­quired fame with videos of his football skills. Justin keeps in reg­u­lar con­tact with him. “Some­times we speak to each other via FaceTime,” he says. “It’s good fun and I’ll of­ten give him ad­vice. He looks up to me, so it’s re­ally im­por­tant I do ev­ery­thing right. He wants the same boots as me, wants to copy my shoot­ing style and my tricks, and he can per­form them all, too! Whether he’ll be even bet­ter than me I don’t know – but I hope so.” While Shane looks up to Justin, the Ajax star­let’s got his own heroes. “Ronald­inho was a phe­nom­e­non,” says the 18-year-old. “But off the pitch he wasn’t re­ally a top pro­fes­sional. So th­ese days I look up to play­ers such as Cris­tiano Ron­aldo, who lives for his sport as well. That’s what I want to do in my ca­reer, too, be­cause what you show out on the pitch also re­flects on how much you’re will­ing to sac­ri­fice.” Kluiv­ert’s a mas­sive fan of the Real Madrid marks­man, and loved the doc­u­men­tary, Ron­aldo, he re­leased in 2015. “One day I hope to make some­thing like that about my­self,” he says with a smirk. Be­fore the start of this sea­son, Kluiv­ert set him­self some new tar­gets. “My two main goals are winning the Ere­di­visie ti­tle with Ajax and then mak­ing my de­but for the Nether­lands,” he says, be­fore quickly adding, “and of course to keep im­prov­ing. “I want to im­prove on ev­ery­thing. I’m still young. I give ev­ery­thing in train­ing and I also make a point of try­ing to im­prove even the things that are al­ready go­ing well.” His ul­ti­mate dream is to play for a big club abroad – “but you have to see how you de­velop, to see if you can make that move,” he ex­plains. Kluiv­ert says he dis­cusses ev­ery facet of his ca­reer with his mother, fa­ther and agent, Mino Raiola. “I ask other peo­ple’s opin­ion, but in the end it’s me who has to make the de­ci­sions.” If one day he does go abroad, sev­eral coun­tries could be an op­tion, in­clud­ing Eng­land. He ad­mits Lon­don has a cer­tain ap­peal, but in­sists he doesn’t have a favourite Premier League club. “It’s an at­trac­tive city. I have to say Tot­ten­ham are play­ing great football at the mo­ment and re­ally play as a team. But, in gen­eral, I don’t fol­low one team. Arse­nal are a nice club as well, for ex­am­ple.” For the time be­ing, his fo­cus is solely on Ajax where his in­flu­ence on the first team con­tin­ues to grow, just over a year since his fate­ful flight from Por­tu­gal to Hol­land. “I re­alise things have gone quickly,” he says, star­ing into the mid­dle dis­tance for a mo­ment. “I’ve prob­a­bly sur­prised my­self that I’ve been able to make those steps.” If he car­ries on at this rate, he’ll have ev­ery chance of mak­ing that fa­mous name his own. Un­less Quincy, Ruben or Shane are even bet­ter.


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