World News

Marco van Basten: The Dutch Icon With a Love of the Spectacular

90min Staff
Van Basten
Van Basten / Image by Jack Gallagher

Marco van Basten is number 19 in 90min's Top 50 Greatest Footballers of All Time series

You might not have noticed, but there have been some pretty good goalscorers over the years. 

Getting the ball into the back of the net is a real art form. There's hundreds of different ways to score a goal, and it just so happened that Marco van Basten managed to perfect each and every one of them.

Injury may have ended his career sooner than anyone wanted, but by the time he left the sport, Van Basten had made the kind of impact which most players can only dream of.

 - "Ajax Amsterdam v FC Utrecht"
- "Ajax Amsterdam v FC Utrecht" / VI-Images/GettyImages

After spending his youth career with Elinkwijk in Utrecht, Van Basten was spotted by Dutch giants Ajax as a 16-year-old. They took both Marco and brother Stanley on trial in 1981, but only Marco made the final cut.

He was handed his debut in April 1982 against NEC Nijmegen, and he immediately caught the eye by scoring. That set the tone for what was to come.

Despite being only 17 years old at the time, Ajax were confident that Van Basten was good enough to be part of their squad. The dominant Wim Kieft was deservedly ahead of him in the pecking order, but Van Basten still managed nine goals in 20 appearances. The kid could play.

UEFA European Championship 1988 - VI Archive
UEFA European Championship 1988 - VI Archive / VI-Images/GettyImages

It was soon decided that Van Basten could no longer waste time on the bench. Kieft, who himself was only 20, was shipped off to Pisa to make space in the starting lineup. What a decision that turned out to be.

Now a starter, Van Basten erupted. He finished as the Eredivisie's top scorer for four consecutive seasons between 1983 and 1987, racking up a ludicrous 119 goals in just 112 games.

With a haul like that, success was never far behind. On a personal level, he won the European Golden Boot in 1986 after scoring 37 league goals, while he also steered Ajax to the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup the following season.

That form earned him a move to Italy, with AC Milan bringing him in as part of the same Dutch revolution which saw Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit follow him to San Siro one year later.

His debut season was troubled by an ankle injury (remember those words) which restricted him to just 11 Serie A appearances, but he made up for lost time the following year by winning the Ballon d'Or.

He netted 32 goals in all competitions, including two in the 1989 European Cup final, to cement his status as one of the deadliest strikers around.

The thing about Van Basten is that it wasn't just his goal tally which excited fans. The manner in which he scored those goals was just an impressive.

An aerial specialist, the Dutchman made a career out of netting astounding volleys. We've all seen his outrageous strike against the Soviet Union in 1988, but that's just what he did. The man could do whatever he wanted with the ball.

At club level, the goals and the trophies just poured in. Van Basten could not stop himself.

Overall, he won three Serie A titles, two European Cups and one European Super Cup during his time with Milan, and his individual achievements weren't half bad either. He won the Ballon d'Or in 1988, 1989 and 1992, and even added the FIFA World Player of the Year in that final year.

“I used to play with Marco van Basten at Milan. I asked him how we should give the ball to him. He said 'Just pass it, and then start running to congratulate me'. He always thought he would score, and he was usually right.” 

Carlo Ancelotti

Van Basten bagged 125 goals in 201 appearances for I Rossoneri, while that goalscoring also continued at international level. He led the Netherlands to glory at Euro 1988 and was certainly unfortunate not to add more trophies to his collection.

Unfortunately, Van Basten's on-field greatness was taken away from us far too soon. That ankle injury which plagued his debut season in Milan would not go away, and it flared its ugly head once more in December 1992.

Van Basten needed surgery, but he did manage to return for three games late in the season. However, they would be the final three games he ever played.

He needed yet another surgery after aggravating the issue, and he was unable to play in either the 1993/94 or 1994/95 campaigns as a result. After accepting defeat, Van Basten called time on his playing career in August 1995, having played his final game over two years earlier at the age of just 28.

His career may have been cut short, but Van Basten's playing legacy was never tarnished. Touted as one of the greatest strikers the game has ever seen, any young Dutchman is always compared to him, while strikers around the world all aspire to match his goal tally.

It's not as if Van Basten needed more time to win even more - his trophy cabinet was already overflowing - but you can't help but wonder what could have been. 

For more from Tom Gott, follow him on Twitter!

90min's 'Top 50 Greatest Footballers of All Time' can be found here.

Number 50: Luka Modric

Number 49: John Charles

Number 48: Hugo Sanchez

Number 47: Jairzinho

Number 46: Omar Sivori

Number 45: Paolo Rossi

Number 44: Paul Breitner

Number 43: George Weah

Number 42: Kaka

Number 41: Lev Yashin

Number 40: Gunnar Nordahl

Number 39: Kevin Keegan

Number 38: Hristo Stoichkov

Number 37: Gianluigi Buffon

Number 36: Johan Neeskens

Number 35: Xavi Hernandez

Number 34: Luis Suarez

Number 33: Karl-Heinz Rummenigge

Number 32: Andres Iniesta

Number 31: Rivelino

Number 30: Bobby Moore

Number 29: Socrates

Number 28: Sandor Kocsis

Number 27: Lothar Matthaus

Number 26: Ronaldinho

Number 25: Ruud Gullit

Number 24: Bobby Charlton

Number 23: Giuseppe Meazza

Number 22: Raymond Kopa

Number 21: Romario

Number 20: Eusebio