At once one of the most glorious footballers of the last half-century and one of the sport’s great what-if stories. In purely statistical terms, Van Basten’s career was fruitful by anyone’s standards.
He scored 301 goals and won two European Cups, 14 domestic trophies and three Ballon d’Ors. But these numbers are rendered doubly impressive due to how tragically truncated his time as a footballer was – he played his last game at the age of 28.
In the spirit of the Dutch footballing culture that he sprung from, Van Basten was staggeringly multi-talented, perhaps the most complete striker in history. Unlike many of his Dutch contemporaries, however, his position was very much unambiguous – he was an out-an-out centre-forward, a pure goalscorer. The ways by which he fulfilled his remit were many and varied.
Polished and prolific
Equally comfortable off either foot, Van Basten could hit fizzing raspers and deft curlers, long-rangers and one-on-one finishes, free-kicks, penalties and headers. He did it with ludicrous frequency, averaging just under a goal a game over his first six seasons at Ajax, at a time when such a ratio was unheard of. Then he relaxed into a rather more leisurely two-in-three pattern for a six-season stint at Milan that comprised the second half of his career.
While the greatness of his two club sides was a rarity, at international level he was part of something unheard of: a triumphant Holland team. Indeed, he wasn’t so much part of it as the reason for it: his fabled volley brought home the 1988 European Championship trophy, which is still the Netherlands' – one of the world’s most prolifically talented football nations – only prize.
There’s no debate. That magisterial swing of his right boot in Munich to send the ball arcing perfectly over Rinat Dasayev, and the silverware sailing towards the Netherlands. A rare goal that takes away your breath the first time, and yet improves on each repeat viewing.
- Marco van Basten: Games That Changed My Life (opens in new tab)
- Milan '88: The inside story of Sacchi's all-conquering kings, as told by them (opens in new tab)
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