Archive for the ‘Going Dutch’ Category

Movie review: Senna

As an F1 fanatic, I have been eagerly anticipating the arrival of Senna in UK cinemas. But what if you’re not an Formula 1 fan? Can an almost two hour-long documentary about a guy driving around in fast cars keep you entertained? The answer is yes.

Senna is a fast flowing tale of man who truly lived fast and died young, shot in an unorthodox way compared to the standard, dry story telling pattern most documentaries follow.

The fiercest rivalry in F1, Ayrton Senna versus Alan Prost, features prominently in "Senna"

Director Asif Kapadia said: “For me, film is a very visual medium. I’m not the sort of person who will make a film that is really dialogue heavy”. Kapadia’s cinematic views present themselves on screen with the rejection of talking head and an objective voice over.

Instead, Kapadia relied on nearly 15.000 hours of period footage and audio-only interviews with first-hand observers such as Senna’s family, his rivals and team bosses.

For almost two hours, the screen is filled with sometimes unseen, always entertaining, footage of F1 cars battling through the streets of Monaco, spectacular crashes and the ongoing clash between the flamboyant and controversial Brazilian Ayrton Senna and his archrival, the calm and cool Frenchman Alain “Le Professeur” Prost.

Kapadia said: “Everything you see is real, and I didn’t shoot a frame of it. I didn’t need to. My team and I used the actual footage to create a three act-story of the life Ayrton Senna.”

This is where Senna shows its strength. The spectacular footage, proof that action can be delivered without special effects, combined with the Brazilian’s ‘Hollywoodesque’ life story, makes this documentary the most entertaining and realistic racing movie in decades.

In the eighties and nineties both Sylvester Stallone (Driven) and Tom Cruise (Days of Thunder) tried to bring NASCAR and the Indy 500 to the masses. Both movies lacked realism with over the top special effects and cliché scripting. Also, the US-centred racing leagues drove away European visitors from the cinema.

Arguably, the last good racing films popular on both sides of the Atlantic, were made in the sixties and seventies with John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix and Steve McQueen’s Le Mans as the two front runners.

Racing fans hail both movies for their exceptional real life racing footage in an era without hundreds of cameras catching the drivers’ every move. Unfortunately both movies suffered from the lack of story line and only race fans were hooked to the productions.

On the brink of super stardom: a young Ayrton Senna and his "JPS" Lotus 97T (1985)

However, Senna strikes the right balance between entertainment and telling an emotional life story. Senna’s life is real, the racing is real, the emotions are real, the crashes a real. And so is death; waiting around every corner on the race track.

In short, Senna is the ultimate (fairy)tale of a racing driver. The Brazilian star, loved and admired by millions and feared by his rivals, lived a life which no Hollywood script writer could come up with, without loosing his or her credibility. This makes Senna a spectacle for both F1 fanatics as well as anyone who likes to see action, drama and emotion in a movie.

Stef Meens

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The world needs to LiveStrong, more than it needs a guilty Lance Armstrong

The crusaders against seven time Tour de France winner and cycling legend Lance Armstrong claim they want to pursue justice in cycling as well as in worldwide professional sport. However, there is something more important at stake: the future of the LiveStrong foundation

In a simple straightforward world in which justice would be based on looking at facts, nobody would bother accusing Lance Armstrong of using doping. With over 500 drug tests in his career, all negative, it is hard to argue he ever used performance enhancing medication. Or in other words; it can not be proven in a scientific manner.

However, there is a bit of a problem. It is called professional cycling. From the hay days of Tom Simpson, who died attempting to beat the mighty Mont Ventoux on dope, and cycling legend  Eddie Merckx, till the era of Alberto Contador; the sport has always been surrounded by rumours, conspiracy theories and indeed evidence of dope users.

After the ‘Festina  scandal’  during the mid-nineties,  we thought the peloton learned its lesson. But the new millennium proofed otherwise. Cycling aces Jan Ullrich, Iban Mayo, Alexandre Vinokourov, Roberto Heras, Floyd Landis and Tyler Hamilton, were all caught with the finger in the cookie jar of biscuits that make you cycle a bit faster.

Although a few of Armstrong’s former team mates were proven dopers (Heras, Landis and Hamilton), they were not racing with the Texan in the same team at the time they were caught. However, this makes it undeniable that Lance was active in a peloton in which his main rivals used or were accused of using dope. So let’s make a bold statement: Armstrong lived in a culture in which ‘go-faster pills’ were normal.

As said before, ‘The Boss’ never failed a drug test, so despite the existence of dope around Armstrong, there is no scientific evidence for cheating. However, things were and are about to get a lot uglier after dope users and former teammates Hamilton and Landis accused Lance of using EPO and blood transfusions.

Why should we believe Floyd Landis? The short answer is we should not. For years he maintained he was innocent after winning the 2006 Tour full of dope. He asked people for millions of dollars to pay for his legal proceedings before finally ‘unburdening’ his mind by confessing he used forbidden drugs. But instead of taking the blame like a man, he cowardly drew all attention to Lance. Is it the act of a desperate man, a bitter rival, or a broke man looking for some media attention to cash in on?

If there is one thing we can learn from Landis, it is that we cannot trust cyclists for the their word until they are actually proven (not) guilty. Which brings us to Tyler Hamilton, who on CBS’s 60 Minutes ‘confessed’, he saw Armstrong use EPO when they were teammates, and even more controversial, he said the Word Cycling Federation (UCI) concealed a positive test belonging to Armstrong. This claim has been denied by the governing body.

So why does Hamilton bring out these statements regarding his former team captain? Also, why is he not he accusing other riders? Does it have something to do with Hamilton’s soon to be released book or because a federal investigation concerning Armstrong’s career is going on?

Again, like with Landis, it is Hamilton’s word against that of Armstrong and why would we believe two ex team mates who where caught after they left Armstrong’s team to ride for their own success? Both have lied for years and decided, after their careers derailed, to ‘confess’ their sins, or more so, Armstrong’s.

Another twist in the tale could be former teammate and friend George Hincapie, who remained Lance’s most loyal servant throughout all seven Tour de France victories. He allegedly confessed to federal officers of using EPO as well as helping seeing Lance take it. Unlike Hamilton, Hincapie was not interviewed by CBS. However, the show claimed he made the confession. He responded saying:  “I can confirm to you that I never spoke with 60 Minutes. I have no idea where they got their information.” At the moment it is unclear if and what Hincapie revealed. Thus Armstrong remains innocent, denying all claims made by his former team mates.

What if (a dangerous question to raise in a column) he is found to be guilty? What if they do find evidence? As I said earlier, it is not completely unthinkable that the best cyclist of the past decade who beat all his rivals, many of whom were accused or punished for the use of dope, used performance enhancing medication. So would proof of cheating make Lance any less of an athlete?

I do not think so. You cannot win seven consecutive Tours de France without being the best. You can argue that a single win, like Landis or Heras, could be the direct result of their drug abuse, since they were caught immediately during the height of their success.

However, winning de toughest cycling event in the world seven times in a row means you have a lot of talent, physical and mental strength. Undeniable, dope can enhance performance but not the amount that makes you beat the 200 hundred best cyclists in the world, year in, year out. So for me, Lance’s status as one of finest cyclists and indeed athletes of all time, will not be affected if he is convicted for dope use.

Am I worried about cycling, if its biggest star  of the past decade turned out to be a cheat? Again, no. As said before, cycling was, is and will be a sport of people searching for their physical limit, and thus crossing the line.

Eddie Merckx, seen by many as the best cyclist that ever, was accused and proven guilty of using dope. Yet, his reputation as a legend remains. Also, there seems to be an awareness, over time, that the best athlete will always win, despite the use of dope. And judging by the thousands of spectators along the Tour’s stages (after the Olympic Games and the Football World Cup the best watched sporting event in the world), the legendary bike race should not need to worry about its popularity.

Would I be worried about The Boss himself? Of course not, he is a wealthy man who has the means to retreat behind safe walls to protect himself as well as his family.

Although, he probably needs to flee the country since Americans, more than any other country men, hate people cheating in sport. However, I do not really care what happens to Lance. As longs as he stays out of jail (unlike Marion Jones) he will have to bear the consequences of his actions, like any other human being.

Nevertheless, I do worry about Lance’s legacy. I am not talking about his professional cycling career, but his role as founder and role model of the LiveStrong foundation, which has raised $80.000.000 worldwide, to battle cancer.

Armstrong, like no other, took his social responsibility. Wherever he went, with or without the peloton, he visited hospitals, talked with cancer patients, parents and survivors. He tried to help, listen pray and inspire them. It is easy to lend your name to a foundation but the way Armstrong became the face of the battle against cancer, makes him a role model for other athletes and powerful people in society who have the means to change things.


Armstrong is the first to admit that the success of LiveStrong is not down to him alone, despite beating cancer and/or cycling fast through France. Livestrong was build on the many members of staff and volunteers dedicating their time for the good of the foundation. However, all of this would not have been possible if it was not for the Lance, who by beating cancer and becoming a successful athlete, became a symbol of inspiration triggering a response from society which enabled the rise and success of LiveStrong.

If Armstrong’s reputation is to be damaged, the symbolic foundation on which LiveStrong is build will be destroyed. So let us hope, not so much for cycling or Lance himself, but for the sake of  his wonderful foundation, and the millions of people it helped and inspired world wide, that the Texan remains not guilty. Because it is vital that people are aware of the message LiveStrong spreads.

Stef Meens

The Hell of the North; heaven for cycling legends

“Thousands line the road in this annual rite of spring cheering their larger than life heroes. Urging, at times, even helping them victory. They ride in the tracks of bygone legends dreaming of distant fame and glory. But glory is not without a price.

These bloodied and battered warriors struggle through the rain, the cold, the mud, on roads better suited to oxen cart than bicycles. But for the victor there is glory, immortality and a place in history amongst the giants of the road.

Since 1896, the greatest bike racers on earth have come to test their very souls in this brutal and beautiful spectacle”.

CBS Sports – 1987

Paris–Roubaix is more than a one-day cycling event. Together with the Tour of Flanders, the race is considered to be one of the ‘Monuments’ or Classics of cycling.

It has been called the Hell of the Northa Sunday in Hellthe Queen of the Classics or la Pascale: the Easter race.

Famous for rough terrain and challenging weather conditions, The Hell is, like the Tour of Flanders and Gent–Wevelgem, one of the cobbled classics. Hence, since 1977, the winner of Paris–Roubaix has received a sett (cobble stone) as part of his prize after crossing the finish line at Roubaix’ legendary Velodrome

This year, on the second Sunday of April, Belgian rider Johan Vansummeren won. Despite sunshine and the absence of rain and snow, the victory was heart fought and it ran at a destructive pace.

It’s hard to describe in words the beauty of this sport and indeed Paris-Roubaix. However, Dutchman Theo de Rooij tried.

In 1985, he crashed during Paris-Roubaix whilst fighting for victory. He told CBS’ John Tresh after the race:

“It’s a bollocks, this race! You’re working like an animal, you don’t have time to piss, you wet your pants. You’re riding in mud like this, you’re slipping … it’s a pile of shit.”

When then asked if he would start the race again, De Rooij replied:

“Sure, it’s the most beautiful race in the world!”

Stef Meens

Scots pin hopes on Dutch Courage

Edinburgh Rugby and potential Scotland international Tim Visser speaks to Stef Meens about his club and country career.

Winger Tim Visser does what he does best: scoring tries. Pic: PA

Scotland finally scored their first try for 17 months at Murrayfield in their win over Italy in the final match of the 2011 Six Nations, but their next source of tries could come from an unlikely source.

As the Magners League Young Player of the Season for 2010, and top try scorer with 11, Tim Visser is eager to help the Scots when he becomes eligible to play for them.

The 23-year-old Dutchman, who plays on the wing for Edinburgh Rugby, says he is relishing the prospect of playing in the big international tournaments for his adopted homeland.

“The possibility is still a year away, but if I keep working hard and developing then I think I’m ready for it,” Visser said. “I feel at home here and it would be an honour to represent this country and their rugby tradition.”

While most of his team mates were playing in the Six Nations, Visser enjoyed some time off. As his allegiance lay with the Scots, “The Flying Dutchman” watched most of their matches.

“Quite a few of the Edinburgh guys are part of the Scotland team so I supported them. I also know a few lads that play for England from my time at the Newcastle Falcons but since I hope to play for Scotland next year, I cheered for the Scots.”

For Tim, watching the Six Nations has become a household tradition. “My dad played 66 times for the Dutch national team so I grew up with rugby watching him play,” he explained. “Every year we would tune in for Six Nations coverage.

“This year, I particularly enjoyed Italy versus France. The Italians have tried so long to beat one of the big teams in the Six Nations and in a tense match they finally did it. The look on their faces after their victory was priceless.

“In terms of players I would say Chris Ashton and Chris Paterson were the stars for me. The latter was outstanding especially in defence. Ashton has impressed over the last couple of seasons and keeps on scoring. He is a good role model for me in terms of getting the tries”

With England crowned as Six Nations champions, Edinburgh Rugby’s players have now returned to Murrayfield to prepare for the remainder of the season. Visser is glad the team is back together.

“It was good to have a week break. I went back to Holland to catch up with friends and family but I’m glad everybody is back now. You always get a bit disorganised when there’s time off so I’m glad we are returning to full training.”

In his teens, Visser played for Rugby Club Hilversum. His talent was spotted while representing the Dutch national team at the Amsterdam Sevens before joining the the Newcastle Falcons Academy.

When Visser made his debut in the Guinness Premiership in September 2006, he scored the winning try after replacing Jonny Wilkinson.

Despite a good start for the Falcons, Visser played on loan for Darlington Mowden Park in 2006/07 and Northampton Saints in 2007/08. In his last season at Newcastle he scored five tries in 21 appearances before making his move to Scotland

Tim joined Edinburgh Rugby as the club went through a good spell, which helped him find his way in the Magners League.

“I was a bit surprised that I started so well. I never reached my full potential in England but here at Edinburgh they believed in me and after my first try I had the confidence to go on a keep scoring, developing and putting the performance in for the team.

“So it was fantastic to become top try scorer and it was an honour to be named talent of the year.”

For most of the current season, Edinburgh have struggled to find their form. They are out of the Heineken Cup and in the league they are keeping fellow Scots Glasgow Warriors company near the bottom of the table.

However a 23-16 win against Ospreys last Saturday, including a try by Tim, proved Edinburgh have not given up this season and Visser thinks there is enough quality for them to be competitive against any opponent.

“Frankly, I think we were just playing below our par. We fail to eliminate mistakes so it’s getting harder and harder to see games off. “

However, Visser is pleased with his own development this year with five tries in the first four games of the season.

“It’s not as easy to score many point when as a team we are struggling. But in terms of positioning and tackling I feel I improved a lot. The main thing is to get back winning with the team because we have the quality to do just that.”

In a year’s time, “Dutch delight”, as he was called in Newcastle, will become eligible to play for Scotland. With Thom Evans ending his career and Scotland going through a tough period, Visser’s chances to play for Scotland are on the up.

“I spoke to Andy Robinson on a couple of occasions and he asked if I would be prepared to play for Scotland. He said that if I keep improving there is a chance for me so that is a great motivation for me to work hard and keep training.

“Also there is still a lot of competition on the Scotland wings with the likes of Sean Lamont, Simon Danielli and Nikki Walker. They are all physical and the same kind of players like me. A lot will come down to the guy that displays the best form.”

His fellow team-mates are pleased for Visser that he could play in the big international tournaments in the near future.

“We’re all friends and they took me aboard in a great way. I have to say the Scots in general are really friendly. They never gave me the idea I’m an outsider.”

His potential international debut for Scotland is still a year away, which gives him the time to learn the words to Flower of Scotland.

“My teammates asked me the lyrics not too long ago and I think I managed the first two sentences so I’ll have to work on that. But if I get the chance to play for Scotland I’ll sing Flower of Scotland to honour the tradition and to pay respect to this country”


Preview PSV – Rangers: A dull game on the cards in the City of Light

After being kicked out of the Scottish Cup by Old Firm rivals Celtic, Rangers  remain in the hunt for three trophies. The SPL crown is still within their grasp and the Carling Cup final against the Celts is a realistic chance for domestic silverware. In the Europa League, Rangers face Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven.

The Dutch side have bounced back from a weak start of 2011 with six convincing wins out of the last eight . They drew against rivals Ajax, a game which they dominated and a certain victory was denied by an outstanding performance by Ajax goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg.

Despite losing to this year’s Eredivisie revelation Ado Den Haag (currently fifth after years of relegation battles), PSV are confidently leading the Dutch league with champions FC Twente trailing three points.

The team from Eindhoven (known as the City of Light because of the Philips headquarters) made it into the last 16 of the Europa league by beating current French league 1 leaders Lille and finishing first in their relatively easy group(FC Methalist Kkarkiv, Sampdoria and Debreceni VSC). Fred Rutten, the PSV coach, in the Netherlands known as the most cautious man in football, said his side  face a tough draw against Rangers.

However, his analysis after last week’s Old Firm proves PSV hardly fear the Gers firepower: “The atmosphere was amazing and I saw a lot of passion on the pitch. Rangers are a physically strong side who try to defend well; it will be hard to score against them.”

Rutten might not seem too impressed, but what does his team have to offer when they play host to the Scottish champions?

PSV have a long tradition of finding talented strikers who excel in the Eredivie and later become top goal scorers in Europe’s biggest leagues. Romaria, Ronaldo and Van Nistelrooy are the best examples with  Mateja Kezman and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink  only scoring convincingly in the Eredivisie or SPL.

A couple of years ago, PSV found another Brazilian wonder kid: Jonathan Reis. After problems concerning his attitude (caught using cocaine) the talented striker was finally on the right track scoring and creating chances like his illustrious countrymen. However an injury leaves him out  for the remainder of the season.

His replacement, Marcus Berg, who is on a loan spell from Hamburg, hasn’t settled into the team. Another striker, Danny Koevermans,  is causing a bit of trouble in the dressing room expressing his unhappiness regarding his lack of playtime. In other words, PSV lack a reliable number 9.

Despite this they are in their most productive season since 2000. Their main threat comes from three players: Jermain Lens, Balasz Dzsudzsak and Ola Toivonen.

Dzsudzsak (left) and Toivonen (right) produced 27 goals and 17 assists in this season's Eredivisie so far

Despite he hasn’t yet showed his top form, Lens is a very fast winger/second striker, deadly on the counter attack. However, PSV’s real entertainers are Toivonen and Dzsudzsak, the latter being the most threatening forward in the Eredivisie with 14 goals and 12 assists. He has a fantastic right foot and great ability to pass his man.

Swedish international Toivonen has stood up to fill the void left by Barcelona midfielder Ibrahim Afellay. He doesn’t have the Dutch international’s quick feet but the Swede compensates with power, strength and good runs into the box.

However, PSV’s problem lies in their lack of movement. Even their star players like Dzsudzsak and Toivonen are better with the ball instead of finding space without it. Thus at times PSV’s play can be static and dull.

Although former Aston Villa Captain Wilfred Bouma is good in moving up the pitch from his position as a centre back, the two central midfielders Bakkal and Engelaar, both physically very strong, lack the quick feet to set up a flowing passing game.

In other words, if Rangers can pressure PSV early on and high up the pitch, PSV have little creativity left than to cross a long ball towards Toivonen or Dzsudzsak.

The goalkeeper, Danish international Andreas Isaksson never looks confident. He is a typical goalie who won’t make to many mistakes in a season but he won’t win you games either. He is particularly vulnerable  for crosses and corners through the air. Rangers should test him as much if they can, even from long-range.

In reality the first match in Eindhoven is not likely to become a classic. Rangers will hope to keep a clean sheet and with a bit of luck score on a counter attack.  PSV will rely on their excellent defensive record and will patiently wait for their forwards to strike.

With the lack of movement in either squad, this could mean that Thursday’s match might become more a battle of fitness and physical strength rather than one in which finesse and technique will determine the outcome.

Strong points
They always score and remain patient
Dangerous on the counter attack
Physically strong midfield

Weak points
Goalie Isaksson
Lack of movement and passing since Ibrahim Afellay left
Without reliable number 9 after injury Reis

Key players:
Dzsudzsak
Toivonen
Bouma

Stef Meens

A Pole on his way to Pole Position

Formula 1 star Robert Kubica suffered serious injuries after crashing in an Italian rally stage on the sixth of February.  After a seven hour operation, the medical experts think he will recover but uncertainty remains if Kubica will be able to race again because of severe damage to his right hand.

Kubica’s accident is a strange part of the appeal of motorsports. There still seems to be an image of heroic gladiators of Formula 1 and Rally ‘cheating death’, even though the spectacular days of drifting and sliding are behind us.

The F1 paddock, especially Monaco, is the playground for the rich and famous. The drivers are the playboys that all men want to be and all women wants to be with.

Robert Kubica is the complete opposite of this glamorous image, at least outside the car. His driving is undeniable spectacular and on the edge, but outside the cockpit he looks like a Polish Forest Gump. Also, talking doesn’t seem to be one of his strong points, as proven by this BBC interview:

Who is your best friend among the drivers?
Fernando Alonso

If I was in charge of Formula 1 I would…
I don’t know

Do you excel at any other sports?
I enjoy bowling – I’m not very good though. I also play poker, but I’m not that good either.

How would you like to be remembered as an F1 driver?
I don’t care.

What is your most embarrassing sporting moment?
I don’t remember any embarrassing moment in my career so far.

Who is the worst dressed Formula 1 driver?
I don’t know. I don’t care. Maybe me, maybe not.

Where is your favourite place to go on holiday?
I have never been to Finland but I would like to go there. I like quiet places where you are on your own. I think Finland offers places like this.

Apart from a house what is the most expensive thing that you own?
No comment.

What is your favourite item of clothing?
I like T-shirts and hooded sweatshirts.

What is your favourite music to drive to?
It depends on the situation and on my mood but 90% of my time I listen to the radio.

Tell us something about yourself that most F1 fans might not know
In F1 there are so many media so there is practically nothing about me you cannot find in the media.

So far we have a Polish dude who looks better with a helmet on, who likes to sit alone in a Finnish forest and loves bowling. Who says F1 drivers are boring? (Here’s the full BBC interview)

Back to the roots of this strange Pole. He was born in a country with no racing tradition but his father, a car salesman, bought him a car when Robert was just entering his teen years. Little Kubica spend the next months driving around plastic bottles.

At the age of twelve, Robert pretty much won everything in Polish karting, not exactly the pinnacle of motorsport. His dad decided to give his son a change with proper material and opponents. Kubica moved to Italy to become the first foreigner to win the Italian International Junior Karting.

Robert’s career through the junior ranks on his way to F1 was a remarkable one. His move to Formula three (an essential championship to be competitive in if you want to come anywhere near F1) was spectacular. His first race was delayed by a road accident which left him with a broken arm. At his delayed debut he won the race with a plastic brace and 18 titanium bolts in his arm.

Despite a lap record in the prestigious Macau F3 grand prix, he never reached his potential in F3. For most young drivers that would mean the end of their F1 dreams but Kobica got a change in the new World Series by Renault in which he became world champion in his first year in 2005. This earned him a test with the Renault F1 team. He immediately showed his pace and the whole F1 paddock was aware of Kubica’s talent and pace.

In 2007 Robert got his chance to race in F1 replacing Jacques Villeneuve at BMW Sauber. Kubica qualified ninth, beating his more experienced teammate Nick Heidfeld. He thendrove to an impressive seventh place in the race, but was disqualified for having an underweight car.

In his third race, the Italian Grand Prix, Kubica finished in third position, and became the first Polish driver to appear on a Formula One podium, as well as the first Polish driver to lead a Grand Prix.

Kubica performed well during the 2007 season, finishing consistently in point scoring positions. But he was most remembered that season because of his crash at the Canadian Grand Prix.

He escaped uninjured after his car made contact with Jarno Trulli’s Toyota and then hit a hump in the grass which lifted the car’s nose into the air. The car rolled and hit the wall on the outside of the hairpin. The speed measured when his car clipped the barrier was 300.13 km/h (186.49 mph) and Kubica’s body had been subjected to a peak G-force of 75 G (75 times your own body weight in plain English). But Robert being Robert claimed his first F1 victory a year later in the (you’ve guessed it) Canadian Gran Prix.

Kubica is a strange lad.  He is best friends with Fernando Alonso, one of the most hated and flamboyant drivers in the paddock. He loves the ‘thrill’ of bowling and his idea of a lazy Sunday afternoon is driving a rally car on country roads with an average speed of 90 Mp/h.

Even though he is considered ruthless on the track and a real threat for any title contender, none of his rivals dislike him. Maybe his fellow drivers acknowledge, like millions of race fans, that he is one of the last gladiators of a sport dominated by technology and money. Get well soon Robert!

The best striker in the world who became a pancake

Exactly two years ago, the world of Dutch football evolved around one thing: a pancake. Yes, we are talking about those round things you eat in the morning with lots of syrup.

In the Netherlands there is a strong tradition of fans mocking their opponents, the referee, the players, the board of directors and last but not least, the coach. Everything imaginable was chanted in stadiums across the nation of Total Football.

The ref’s mom was active in the oldest profession in the world, the opponents all resembled a male’s sexual organ and so on.. . But is seemed nobody really cared about the insults, they were common. Just as common as it was for English fans to go abroad and eat the chairs of the opponents stadium.

But let’s move on to the man in question. His holiness Marco van Basten had a fantastic career at Ajax and AC Milan but because of an ankle injury he was forced to retire early. The footage of him saying goodbye to a full San Siro is legendary, mainly because of a crying Fabio Capello.

The calm composed former striker of AC Milan played golf for about fifteen years until he became coach of the national team and finally of Ajax, the club where his career started. Marco was known for his killer instinct as a player, his icy glance and his calm and composed attitude. Even if fans would disturb his team’s training; he would stop the session, have a chat and explain why he was the coach of Ajax and why the hoodies opposite of him were a bunch of pillocks.

However, back in February 2009, the pressure on Van Basten was reaching an all time high. He spend about £25m on random players who did not deliver on the pitch which resulted in a poor league position and a 30th league title further away than ever.

The fans started to sing bad songs about the players, the board, of course the referee, and even at San Marco. But Marco being a San, a holy man, crowned once as world player of the year and three times as the best European player, never responded to the chants. It seemed he could not care less, calm as ever. He was a man on a mission and nobody would distract him from fulfilling it.

Back to the first of February. After losing 1-0 at home to Heerenveen, Van Basten was on his way to the dressing room when a fan proclaimed the legendary words: “Je wordt bedankt, pannekoek!” meaning: Thanks a lot ya pancake! The normally so calm and composed Van Basten looked like he was going to rip the guy’s head off, eat it and then floss his teeth with the lad’s scarf.

The myth ‘San Marco’ was gone: it was the beginning of his end at Ajax. A legend fell of his thrown, because of pancake. It dominated the news headlines and since that very day they nobody dared to repeat it. Holland had a new C-word and it started with a P.

From that moment on, San Marco would be remembered as the pancake… And of course the guy who won us the European Championship with possibly the best goal ever scored in a final (together with Zidane’s volley at Hampden).

Stef Meens

Suarez £23m deal: Epic Liverpool fail or the real start of the Dalglish era?

After a week of negotiations both Ajax and Liverpool got what they wanted. Well, sort of… The Reds wanted Suarez badly but did not want to pay more than £15 million. The Amsterdam side were at first reluctant to let their star striker go. However, they received the offer they wanted, which came in handy, considering Ajax’ financial woes with a debt of £20 million.

So who has Kenny Dalglish lured into Anfield? Here are a few stats to accompany the Uruguayan international’s career:

Nacional – 2005/2006                       games/goals:             29 – 12
FC Groningen – 2006/2007               games/goals:             29 – 10
AJAX – 2007/2011                            games/goals:          159 – 111

A total of 133 goals out of 217 matches is not at all bad for a player who just turned 24, but is he worth over £20 million, considering he only played in small leagues?

Let’s have a look at his strong points. He can play on every position up front. In the national team he is second striker to Diego Forlan and at Ajax he used to play on both wings alongside Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Mounir El Hamdoui . If they were injured he ran up front as a lone striker which, as his stats prove, did not stop him putting the ball in the back of the net.

Then there is his desire to win. Of course, for the amount of money most Ajax players earn, you should always be motivated. However, Suarez is extraordinary. During the full 90 minutes he never seems to get tired and he just keeps on pestering the opposition’s defence. He also does whatever it takes to win, as we saw in de quarter finals of the World Cup.

More importantly, he is the kind of player who makes the important goals in the difficult moments during a match. He is no Messi or Bergkamp, but he can score goals from angles and positions nobody else thought of. So when Suarez is on the pitch you know something is going to happen.

That is exactly what Liverpool need. With the likes of Gerrard, Torres and Kuyt, the Reds have a few players who can spur on the squad. But with the captain out with an injury and the Spanish number nine eying a move to Chelsea, Liverpool can use a player who gives everything and motivates a team in a tough stage during a match or even a season.

But with Suarez’s passion and desire to win come a few problems. He is a bad actor which leads to dreadful dramatic dives, moaning at the ref and asking for other players to be booked. Wingers like Robben and Ronaldo were not popular outside their clubs’ gates while playing in the Premier League and Suarez will encounter the same adversity.

In his never ending motivation, the right footed attacker sometimes looses his composure to overlook a game. He will just keep on going at the defence without using the rest of the team. This resulted many times in a last minute goal and the all important three points for Ajax. However, the Premier League is a bit different from the Eredivisie. The English top flight is, arguably, the hardest league in the world and Suarez he will not get away with choosing the longer road to the opposition’s goal, blanking his teammates along the way.

Also, Suarez’s ego needs to be kept happy. As long as he is the centre of attention he does not mind which position he is playing. However, as soon as lead scorer Huntelaar left Ajax, Suarez played his best football. Also, when El Hamdaoui arrived in Amsterdam last summer, the Urugyan became frustrated he had to share his monopoly on goals. The question for Kenny Dalglish will be if he can get Suarez to play for the team, alongside all the other big names.

So is Luis going to be a revelation at Liverpool? He certainly has the potential. I see him as a young Tevez, who is strong with the ball and can play anywhere on the pitch. He combines his skill with Dirk Kuyt’s work rate and a young Cristiano Ronaldo’s ‘annoy’ factor. This means if Suarez does well, he will become a cult hero at Anfield and much hated and feared at every away game.

Stef Meens

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