Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughSAINT MARCO - Marco Van Basten - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough SAINT MARCO - Marco Van Basten - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

SAINT MARCO – Marco Van Basten

Marco Van Basten is one of the most naturally gifted players to have ever walked on a football pitch. Remembered as a giant of the game, a complete forward – but Ross Fisher can’t help but feel as though you have been robbed, as a fan, of such genius.

Throughout footballing history, there is a catalogue of iconic moments or goals which have defined a career. Pele, Puskas, Maradona, Zico and Zidane all have contributed in one way or another – unfortunately, defining moments don’t come all that easy. In 1988, Marco Van Basten delivered his moment in the European Cup Final for Holland. “The ball was too high really…It took forever to drop down…you cannot shoot from that angle…It was very difficult but he made it look that easy – it’s the difference between luck and divine skill” are all quotes from Cryuff, Gullit, Rijkaard upon witnessing and being part of that goal.

It all began in the Dutch city of Utrecht where he was born and where he grew up. His father still lives in the same place since the birth of his son in 1964 and has turned Marco’s old room into something of a museum – floor to ceiling with shirts, signed pictures and medals. “When he was a boy, he loved every sport and wasn’t too focused on football, but he was made for it. As the years went by it was obvious he was born to kick a ball. When he joined UVV [local side], everyone else saw what a talent he was other than himself. But he hated to lose”

Hating to lose was much of his make-up as a player, playing always as a centre forward, Van Basten wanted to change position when he was part of the youth set-up. “I wanted to play more football and get more possession, but my father persuaded me otherwise. He said playing in attack is better as it is the hardest position and I will learn more. I remember being so angry and frustrated when playing once – I was being marked by someone who was bigger than me, who kept kicking me all game, so I just left the field. My father came up to me and said that I should calm down and treat it as a compliment, that I was too good for him, hence him kicking me. I calmed down, returned to the game and scored twice. We won 2-0.”

At such a young age, it was clear that he was talented beyond his years. His reputation was further backed up by the legend Johan Cruyff. “He had amazing qualities, I mean, right foot, left foot, his head, his intelligence. He was something we had never seen before, coming from such a young guy.” With Cruyff singing about him wherever he went, the word quickly spread. Inter Milan hosted a 5-a-side tournament and invited Cruyff to bring along a Dutch side. Marco Van Basten was, of course, brought along. Coach Sandro Mazzola remembers seeing young Marco “Cruyff said to me ‘I’ll bring along this 15 year old’ and I said ‘Look, this is a professional standard of play’. He came and played with some very good players, and against them may I add. But he wasn’t afraid. He was beating them, passing, shooting – we all looked on at this remarkable talent with awe.”

Fittingly, European pedigree outfit Ajax snapped him up and he learnt his trade with the Dutch “Master”.  Cryuff came back from playing in America and was starting to get himself involved within the coaching world, focusing on youth football. “It was such an honour for us to play with him” said Marco, “Everyone who has played under him has learned so much, not just me”.

At the age of 17, Marco Van Basten made his debut for Ajax, coming on as a sub for Cryuff and it only took him 10 minutes to score. He scored 9 times in his first season at Ajax and quickly became the type of player which others had to co-operate within their game. Ronald Koeman said “He was a fantastic player – not always a team player, however, but he would always find his own way of making you play him in – his movement was unbelievable.”

Playing alongside players such as Koeman, Cryuff and Rijkaard – it was inevitable that he would fulfil his potential. 117 goals in 112 games – the majority of goals laced with genius – ensured him being the league’s top goal scorer for 4 consecutive years, and In the 85/86 season he stroked the ball into the net an incredible 37 times in 26 games, which included this.

During his time with Ajax as a youth, he had signed a pre-contract agreement with Inter Milan, something which fell through when Van Basten fell ill and interest fizzled out. Enter AC Milan who promptly signed him in 1987, along with Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard. AC Milan had an ambitious president who wanted to take the world by storm, backed up by his money. In 1988 and his first season, Milan won their first Scudetto since 1979. The champagne was flat for Van Basten however, his troubles were starting to bloom. “I did not play well because of my ankle. It got to a point where I couldn’t even walk on it anymore. I saw a Barcelona specialist who worked on it as there was a serious problem, but it put me out of play for 6 months”

The timing couldn’t have been any better. Van Basten’s return came during the European Championships for Holland and played in a must-win game against England. John Barnes played in that match. “We had heard that Van Basten was actually going to start against us, something we were very happy about. He had been out for over 6 months and wasn’t fully fit, but how wrong could we be? He was a complete forward.” England was undone by a Dutch master-class, with Van Basten bagging a hat-trick. After scoring the winner and beating West Germany 2-1 in the semi-finals, Holland were to face the Soviet Union in the final where Van Basten proved to the world how much of a class act he was. Marco made something out of nothing, something that will be remembered always, it was a moment that is still celebrated today, and what started as a difficult tournament became a dream for The Oranje. “I was happy of course that we won, but I was more happy that my ankle was feeling better, I couldn’t wait to start a fresh with AC Milan”.

Milan were a phenomenal side, the equivalent of todays Barcelona, with every single player playing together as a unit – each one an individual and world class talent. Maldini, Ancelotti, Rijkaard, Van Basten and Gullit were to meet their destiny as they kicked off the 1989 Champions League Final. “It felt like a home game, the sensation after 2 minutes already felt like ours. From the first minute we moved together as a team…It was the most perfect game I have ever played in”

Milan set a new standard in world football as Gullit and Van Basten scored twice each to bring home the trophy, demolishing Bucharest 4-0. It was a standard that went on and on, with Van Basten being regarded as Europe’s finest player. Franco Baresi described him as “Magic” and during Milan’s dominance, Ruud Gullit said “He was amazing, I just did everything I could do to give him the ball, he was the greatest I ever played with – nothing was impossible with Marco, it was hard to find an attribute he didn’t possess.”

Relentlessly triumphant, Van Basten won his third Ballon D’Or in 1992 but he knew he was on borrowed time. “When the pitches became harder or softer, my ankle became worse and worse. I went to a specialist who said they can “clean” my ankle which would help but it went wrong. I could hardly walk anymore afterwards and had to quit. I found it very hard to come to terms with because football is my life. I returned in 1993 but I was dying as a football player. I was a shadow of my former self so threw the towel in.”

Rumour has it that apparently a fan of Milan’s wrote in and offered his own ankle, medically, in order to try and help Van Basten, which of course he declined. There is apparent video evidence of Fabio Capello crying during Van Basten’s testimonial – being forced into retirement at the age of 28.

Marco Van Basten was the best footballer in Europe for a total of 10 years, the best that many of those eras have played with or against. He achieved so much in a short period of time as a player – a UEFA Cup Winner, 6 League Titles, a European Championship Winner, Twice lifting the Champions League and winning the Balloon D’Or 3 times. It makes you think what else he, and the Dutch national side, could/would/should have achieved if he could have carried on playing.

Capello, I feel your sorrow.

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