Justin Kluivert hopes to follow father Patrick's footsteps at Ajax
Patrick Kluivert had never scored a hat trick in the Eredivisie, but his son Justin accomplished the feat on Sunday at the tender age of 18.
The Ajax starlet might have succeeded against rock-bottom Roda, the weakest club in the division by a distance and who are almost certain to be relegated, but the quality of the goals was still remarkable. All were scored when Kluivert Jr. cut inside from the left flank and finished with his stronger right foot. He showed that he can go for power with a fierce shot, and is capable of a deft touch nevertheless.
His father was naturally delighted, but the duo are very different as far as their football skills are concerned. At 1.88 metres tall, Patrick was a towering centre-forward who mostly thrived in the penalty area -- that is how he scored his most famous and important goal, the late winner in the 1995 Champions League final against AC Milan. Justin is just 1.72m tall, and thus speed and trickery are his main assets. He mostly operates on the wing, where his dribbling skills can be used effectively.
Given such differences, it could have been natural if the son tried to avoid comparisons to his great dad and to lower expectations. And yet, the reality is different.
"I like it when I am compared to my dad. He had a great career, and I hope to have one. People anticipate things from me, but I feel no pressure. I just love playing football," Justin said back in 2016, long before making his senior debut for Ajax.
When promoted to the first team in January aged just 17, he went even further. Having asked for the No. 45 shirt, Kluivert published a photo with a small plus between the digits. Ivan Zamorano once turned the No. 18 into 1+8 at Inter Milan because the No. 9 had to go to Ronaldo. The winger wasn't even born at the time, but he made the same trick at Ajax, because Patrick used to play with No. 9 on his back.
Was it a sign of boldness and self-confidence? Peter Bosz, who coached Ajax last season, most certainly thought so.
"A player must prove himself when given a chance, and that is what Justin has done," the attack-minded specialist said in the beginning of March. "It is nice to see that he has swagger in his game. He is a true Amsterdammer,"
Just a few days later, Kluivert was lucky to score his first Eredivisie goal in the 1-1 draw versus Excelsior Rotterdam. It came exactly 10 years and one day after his father scored his last goal in the Netherlands -- for PSV Eindhoven against Ajax. The occasion was symbolic and the whole country was excited. The heir had arrived.
Kluivert was living the dream. He was given opportunities to shine in Europa League, and provided a nice assist for Davy Klaassen in the quarterfinal clash against Schalke, even though the youngster watched the final against Manchester United from the bench three weeks after his 18th birthday. Club legends such as Sjaak Swart claimed that he has a very bright future ahead of him. And yet, it was hard to make those predictions based on a few matches, and the big test awaited the winger this term.
With Bosz lured away to Borussia Dortmund in the summer, Ajax decided to promote Marcel Keizer from the reserve team to take his place. Many assumed that the change would be positive for Kluivert who played numerous games for the reserves last term and knew Keizer well. However, the season started in disappointing fashion, and the winger soon found himself benched.
With Amin Younes starring on the left, and David Neres the preferred option on the right, there was no place for Kluivert in recent weeks. The situation became even more difficult for the youngster when the coach chose to play centre-forward Kasper Dolberg in Kluivert's favourite position on the left when Klaas-Jan Huntelaar started in the middle.
"I must respect that. It's the coach's right to make the decision, and it's up to me to work even harder so that he chooses me this time," Justin remarked.
Such an attitude was positive in the extreme, and Keizer liked it. Having watched Kluivert's performance for the Dutch under-21 side against Andorra in the beginning of the month, the coach decided to give his protege another chance as Younes was injured. The results were remarkable.
Kluivert had a good game in the 8-0 thrashing of NAC Breda, providing an assist to rising star Donny van de Beek. Then, when the Amsterdamers surprisingly fell behind against the lowly Roda, Kluivert was on hand to score the equaliser on the stroke of half-time, and then proceeded to add two more breathtaking goals after the break.
"That's fun! My father will be proud," Justin said.
Patrick will make sure that his son keeps his feet on the ground and continues to progress. The former Barcelona and Newcastle star was once supposed to coach Justin in Ajax's youth team before taking the sensational offer to become the sporting director at Paris Saint-Germain. That spell proved to be a short one, and now he has more time to watch his promising offspring in action and provide important advice.
The talent is obvious for all to see, but continuity is important. If everything goes according to plan, we could be witnessing a Kluivert playing for Netherlands again in the near future.
Michael Yokhin is an experienced international football journalist who writes for ESPN, Blizzard, Guardian and FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @yokhin.