The 36-year-old was far from blockbuster, but he was the player managers and his team-mates most appreciated so deservedly bows out as a champion
“You’re blessed when you’ve got someone like him,” the late, legendary Johan Cruyff wrote of Dirk Kuyt in 2014.
Four years earlier, the notoriously hard-to-please maven had declared his fellow Dutchman “worth his weight in gold.”
Kuyt calls time on playing career
Those that have had the pleasure of working with the 36-year-old, who announced his retirement on Wednesday, would enthusiastically nod at that assessment.
Kuyt was not the player you’d pay money to watch, but he made those ones better. He was far from a breathtaking force, but was persistently the one his managers and team-mates could bank on.
Feyenoord’s fairytale title win
From being man of the match in the 2003 Dutch Cup final for Utrecht, slotting the first penalty against Galatasaray as Fenerbahce won the Turkish Super Cup, scoring Merseyside derby winners or a hat-trick against Manchester United while at Liverpool, and firing in another treble last weekend to deliver Feyenoord’s first Eredivisie title in 18 years, Kuyt has been decisive throughout his career.
That he has achieved so much while being utterly selfless is testament to a “100 per cent team player” as former Tottenham and Ajax boss Martin Jol put it.
Holland’s progress to the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals at the expense of Mexico provided the perfect snapshot of Kuyt’s commitment to the collective cause. Earning his 100th international cap to join an elite group, he started at left-wingback before switching to the opposite flank.
When a goal was needed, he shifted forward to lead the line, before ending the game at Estadio Castelao – coinciding with the anniversary of his father’s passing – in the right-back role. Afterwards, Robin van Persie revealed: “I had a little speech for him. I told him I am so proud of him and that he is an example for young and old.
“It is fantastic [to reach a century of appearances for Holland], if anyone deserves this, it’s him.’’
Kuyt was a players’ player: he’d cover you, offer an outlet, do the graft to tee others up for glory. When big moments were needed in pressure situations, he’d be in the right place, at the right time with the right attitude. He’d get the ball over the line and the team over it too.
Managers adored him for his lack of flash and overflow of function. Mr Duracell, as Rafael Benitez called him, was always willing to sacrifice himself and was hardly ever unavailable due to injury.
“Kuyt has a fantastic mentality,” said the Spaniard, who recruited him to Anfield for £9 million from Feyenoord in August 2006. “We talk about him being a striker, who has played on the right because we needed it. He can also play as a second striker.
“When we played in the Cup and Philipp Degen had cramps, he said to me that if I wanted he could play at right-back.
“It’s not just his versatility and the fact he’s in very good condition, it’s his mentality. He’s always ready to help the team. He is a player that every manager would want in their team. You can play him or not but he’s always available, always ready and always helping the team.
“When you talk about a squad or a winning team, you need players with this mentality. If you have to change something for a game or have to put a player out of position, he is always available. That’s massive for a manager.”
Former Netherlands boss Bert van Marwijk agreed. “Dirk Kuyt, par excellence, is a team player,” he enthused.
“He is the example of a true and genuine team player. He’s so focused, he’s working so hard for the team and gives such a positive signal to the rest of the players. I’m so pleased with him.”
Supporters of Utrecht, Feyenoord and Liverpool lionise him too: he was always at full tilt, always trying, always leaving everything he had on the pitch.
Kuyt finished his career in the top six of goalscorers in the league for all three clubs and is fondly remembered at Fenerbahce too, where he won three honours.
“There are players who can change the course of a match with a single touch and others who are there to serve the team,” the man himself said.
“I have no problem admitting I’m in the second category. I try to do what I can to win each match. I’m a battler.
“Every match is equally important to me, and if you win all the time, the titles will eventually come.”
There wasn’t a more appropriate way for Kuyt to call time on his playing career than by lifting one through the sheer force of his will.
He leaves the field a champion, which is exactly how he carried himself.