Klaas-Jan Huntelaar still an enigma after struggling at Euro 2012
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is in the form of his life. Having plundered an incredible 52 goals in 51 games last season, he was top scorer in both the Bundesliga and in the Euro 2012 qualifiers, with effusive praise ringing in his ears.
German legend Bernd Schuster has claimed: “He looks like he was cloned from Marco van Basten”, while Schalke team-mate Lewis Holtby added: “You could behead him and he would still score goals.” With Louis van Gaal explaining that “in the penalty area, he is the best player in the world, bar none”, he is inadvertently highlighting the enduring dilemma regarding Huntelaar. Given the right service, he is lethal, without it, he is largely anonymous and offers very little.
Despite 12 goals in qualification, the 28-year-old did not start in Holland’s 1-0 defeat against Denmark, with Robin van Persie favoured up front. Replacing Ibrahim Afellay late in the game, he missed a one-on-one chance to level the contest before again missing out on the starting line up for the 2-1 loss to Germany. Introduced at half time, once more for Afellay, he had little impact but was restored to the first XI for the must win game against Portugal in his favoured position with van Persie stationed deeper. Starved of the ball, he provided a listless performance that will inevitably fan the flames of critics, of which there are many.
Mario Gomez plundered 43 goals in 50 games last year and exhibits a comparable striking prowess to Huntelaar, while also demonstrating similar weaknesses. Pitted against each other in their second group game, albeit briefly, Gomez netted twice in a German side that plays to his strengths, while Huntelaar struggled to make an impact within an established formation that clearly does not suit him. Holland failed to earn a single point in the group of death, they look a team of individuals lacking a collective purpose. Huntelaar was not alone in performing below expectations.
Huntelaar flourished at Ajax in tandem with Luis Suarez and has enjoyed a fruitful partnership with Raul at Schalke, both of whom are intelligent, technically gifted players, the perfect foils for ‘The Hunter’ who is largely stationary. He has had his share of struggles in the past however, including his six-month spell at Real Madrid and his solitary season at AC Milan; in and out of high profile sides in a pressurised environment. This period of his career, coupled with indifferent form at competitive international tournaments, has fuelled claims that he is found wanting at the highest level. An alternative reading would be that he has been a victim of circumstance and did not get the time or opportunity to acclimatise and adapt.
That opportunity may materialise in the summer, as he enters the final 12 months of his current Schalke contract, which general manager Horst Heldt has publically revealed includes a £17m release clause. At that sort of price, there should be no shortage of takers and may attract the likes of Manchester United and Spurs, which are believed to be monitoring his progress (see TalkSport). If Liverpool are not interested then they should be, struggling for goals and a suitable partner for Suarez, Huntelaar would certainly fit the bill on both counts.
A throwback centre forward that is worth his weight in goals or the last of a dying breed, the enigmatic Klaas-Jan Huntelaar will continue to divide opinion but will always remain in demand.
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