Roy Makaay: a journey beyond the doubters and into the history books

Roy Makaay: a journey beyond the doubters and into the history books

“Dad, your record’s gone.” Roy Makaay couldn’t believe it. For four years, his opportunistic strike against Real Madrid had been the quickest goal in Champions League history. Now, a text from his son suggested that Valencia striker Jonas had scored after just 10.96 seconds. Makaay, who had made his career out of being forgotten, was about to be struck from the record books.

TV analysts played the goals side-by-side. Thankfully, Makaay’s strike had rolled into the net half a second before. The record stood, but even if it hadn’t, one of the most talented strikers of his generation would probably have brushed it off.

Until 9 March 1975, Wijchen was known mostly for its Mannerist castle and as the birthplace of Fred Rutten. On that day, however, the sleepy town in the borderlands with Germany gave birth to Rudolphus Antonius Makaay.

‘Roy’ spent his childhood the way most footballers do, stuffing impromptu games into the space between school and bedtime. Matches were convened in the carpark next to his house, with the final whistle blown only by his parents’ calls for dinner. He was just 12 when Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten pillaged their way to the European title in 1988. As role models go, he couldn’t have asked for better, attempting to recreate their heroics whilst evading the parked cars and family pets.

A talented young striker, Makaay was invited to trial for local club NEC Nijmegen, only to be rejected out of hand. The coach of his amateur team, who also happened to be a scout for Vitesse, suggested he try the Arnhemmers instead. It took just one afternoon for manager Bert Jacobs to sign him up. At 15, Makaay became a professional.

After a marvellous career that had taken in sojourns at Ipswich and Vancouver, Frans Thijssen retired in 1991. He was a youth team coach at Vitesse by the time a curtained, spotty teen joined the club. Eager to impress, Makaay hung intently on Thijssen’s every word, desperate to improve under the coach’s watchful eye. “There could not have been a better motivation for me,” he admitted in an interview with 11 Freunde. Thijssen was given a front-row seat as Makaay remade himself, building session-by-session into a pacey, ruthless forward.

In 1993, Makaay made his debut in a team that already boasted prodigious young talents like Raimond van der Gouw and Phillip Cocu. Hyped in the reserves, it took 11 arduous games for him to snare a first professional goal against Heerenveen on 15 January 1994. He never looked back, roaring to the top of scoring charts in each of the next two seasons.

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By the summer of 1995, Louis van Gaal had seen enough. Ajax might have just won the Champions League, but there was room in the squad for a man who seemed capable of scoring goals from anywhere on the pitch.

To van Gaal’s disbelief, however, Makaay rejected his advances. How could he compete in a team already boasting the likes of Finidi George and Marc Overmars? The greatest Dutch manager of the decade was sent scurrying back to Amsterdam, before Makaay finished once again as his club’s top scorer with 22 in 39 games.

Jupp Heynckes is a legend at many clubs, but he is revered in Tenerife. For two years in the mid-1990s, a place associated chiefly with sunburn and cocktails touched footballing greatness. The German maestro led the islanders to mid-table in LaLiga before launching them to the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup. In 1996, he sent his assistant to Gelderland to report on a dimpled striker who couldn’t help himself but score.

Back then, Makaay didn’t even know Tenerife was an island. He also didn’t know that Heynckes would be departing for Real Madrid by the time he eventually joined the club in the summer of 1997. Almost £10m was enough to see him join teammate Ferdi Vierklau off the African coast, but any hopes that Víctor Fernández could replicate the triumphs of his predecessor were shortly abandoned.

Tenerife were terrible all year, flirting with relegation as their new striker hobbled to just seven goals. Makaay struggled with the quality and physicality of Spanish defences, admitting to Endless Progression: “I was forced to act faster and become much smarter …you had to show that you’re there yourself, that you’re not too intimidated.”

The next season was more fruitful. His scoring tally doubled, but it was immaterial to a side that that had run out of gas. Despite signing a mammoth six-year contract on his arrival, everybody knew the Dutchman was sure to depart as the islanders were subsumed by relegation. Five million pounds later, the Tulipán joined Javier Irureta’s revolution in A Coruña. Wijchen might have been 1,200 miles away from the Ríazor, but Galicia’s wind-battered streets were eerily reminiscent of home.

Makaay adapted instantly in a team that quickly set about dismantling the Real Madrid and Barcelona hegemony. A hat-trick on his debut against Alavés hinted at something memorable, but Super Depor were just getting started.

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Barcelona were still the favourites on matchday 10. They had arguably the best player in the world in Rivaldo, not to mention the coach who’d originally tried to lure Makaay to Ajax four years prior. That day, Van Gaal was made to rue that failure, rendered powerless as Makaay’s two goals secured a famous 2-1 victory for the Galicians.

Much has been written about that great Deportivo side. Their 4-2-3-1 was pragmatic and brutally efficient, but it was frequently breathtaking too, with a squad packed full of guile and experience. Nourredine Naybet was a Maghreb maestro at centre-back, broad-shouldered and menacing, whilst either side of him, Romero and Manuel Pablo were two of the most diligent full-backs in LaLiga. Flávio Conceição’s mobile brilliance would eventually earn a move to Real Madrid, whilst the cantankerous duo of Mauro Silva and Donato dovetailed superbly in midfield. When Makaay suffered a rare off day, Pauleta was an accomplished foil for the searing crosses of Victor and Frán from the touchline.

Makaay was frequently capable of deciding fixtures on his own – for proof, see his outstanding strike against Montpellier in the UEFA Cup. On a clear night in October 1999, he had received the ball in his own box only to sprint past the entire French defence and chip over the despairing Stéphane Cassard in goal.

In Djalminha, the Dutchman could rely on one of the most gifted attacking midfielders in Spanish football history. The Brazilian was often uncontrollable, even being suspended by the club after headbutting Irureta during a training session, only for his teammates to beg for his return. He was a constant, nipping, spiky genius, almost violent as he sliced teams apart from a snaking pass. Makaay benefited immensely, racing to 26 goals in his debut season as Deportivo were crowned champions.

Normal order was restored in the two years that followed. Deportivo limped to consecutive silver medals, with the Dutchman labouring in the shadows as Diego Tristán assumed centre-stage. Despite the arrival of Juan Valerón, Makaay accrued just 17 goals across both campaigns. The lustre, it seemed, was beginning to fade.

His riposte to those clamouring for his removal proved to be immediate and devastating, His final season in Galicia was his most productive, with 38 goals making him the top scorer not just in LaLiga but in Europe too. Ever humble, he had arranged for each of his teammates to be provided with a replica of his Golden Shoe trophy, in recognition of what would ultimately prove to be a bittersweet season.

Makaay had grown tired of the manoeuvring and shenanigans of Deportivo president Augusto Lendoiro. Promised an improved contract and higher incentives throughout his stay in A Coruña, the Wijchaar had been left deflated as the club repeatedly broke its word. After four goal-sodden years, he needed a change.

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Bayern Munich remembered Makaay well. It was in Germany, after all, where Deportivo had become the first Spanish side to secure victory against Die Roten in September 2002. On a foggy night at the Olympiastadion, the Dutchman had rifled three simple finishes beyond the reach of Oliver Kahn.

Impressed by the sporting vision of Uli Hoeness and Karl-Heinz Rumenigge, Makaay jumped at the chance to join Bayern in the summer of 2003. It was a very different club to the one that had ousted Valencia in the Champions League final just three years prior. Gone were physical stalwarts like Stefan Effenberg and Carsten Jancker, replaced by technicians such as Michael Ballack and Zé Roberto. Youth prospects Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger contributed regularly too in a team with one eye on a move to its ultra-modern stadium on Werner-Heisenberg-Allee.

By the time Bayern lined up for a game away to Hannover on the 9 August, however, Makaay was nowhere to be seen. The Dutchman was marooned in a Munich hotel, seething at Lendoiro’s last-minute attempts to eke more money from the German club. With recriminations ongoing, it was left to the player himself to sacrifice his salary in order to complete the move. The machinations left a bitter taste, but the 28-year-old was finally free to join his teammates.

“Roy’s effectiveness can be compared with Gerd Müller’s,” beamed Franz Beckenbauer in September 2004. Der Kaiser had just watched Makaay fire his first Champions League hat-trick for the German club, a year after he’d romped to the top of the scoring German scoring charts with 31 goals.

‘Das Phantom’ had been a revelation in the Bundesliga, a player who couldn’t stop himself scoring. Makaay had proven even more lethal playing alongside superior players at a club that held itself prissily to a higher standard. “There is no club in the world that plays one on one against me,” he boasted to Frankfurter Allgemeine in 2005. “There are two, even three defenders trying to prevent me from scoring.”

Even that, however, often wasn’t enough to stop him. Makaay rarely did anything spectacular with the ball at his feet. Often, he was as bemused as anyone to find himself on the end of a drilled cross or bundling a finish over the goal-line. Barely anything he did was jaw-dropping. His first choice was always the most sensible one. His brilliance was the culmination of a thousand correct decisions, and his luck the product of a freakish positioning sense.

He scored just one free-kick in a Bayern shirt, against Hertha Berlin during the final game at the Olympiastadion. The style of the goal was remarkable, with a curling effort evading Nürnberg’s Raphael Schäfer from all of 30 yards. What was less remarkable was that Makaay had scored a hat-trick in each of his previous two appearances.

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By 2007, however, he knew his time in Germany was ending. A goal after just 10 seconds of a last-16 European tie against Real Madrid was the highlight of another productive season. For the fourth year in a row, he had finished comfortably as Bayern’s top scorer.

Two Bundesliga titles and 103 goals are no armour for the passage of time, however. Miroslav Klose had served his apprenticeship well at Werder Bremen, making the inevitable move to Bavaria as a 32-year-old Makaay looked on. Feyenoord offered a way out, parting with £3m to make him the latest old timer in a squad already boasting a blue-rinsed Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Jon Dahl Tomasson.

De Kuip was a frustrating place for the ensuing three seasons as De Stadionclub struggled to reconcile its aged stars with a glutton of promising youth teamers. Through it all, however, Makaay was a reliable goalscoring presence. Only twice in his entire career would he fail to reach double figures in a season, and his time in Rotterdam followed that trend. Only in his final campaign was he deposed from the top of the charts, with 10 strikes paling in comparison to Tomasson’s 12.

Makaay’s international career makes for comparatively disappointing reading. Oranje fans were never truly convinced by the man so worshipped in Galicia and Munich. Some have suggested that his failure on the international stage was due to competition – Patrick Kluivert and Ruud van Nistelrooy were premium competitors, jostling for places in a finite squad. Makaay, however, scored as frequently as either of them.

Others point to his incompatibility with the Totaalvoetbal dogma. The unassuming Wijchenaar had no affinity for delicate passes and slender movements. His talents were unilateral and solitary. Why spend a career dissecting an opponent or dictating the tempo when you can smash in a volley from 18 yards or head in from six?

Injuries took their toll, too. Makaay watched his teammates crash out of Euro 2000 from an Amsterdam hospital room, having shattered his ankle in the build-up to the semi-final clash against Italy. Two years later, he would be tainted by the infamous failure to qualify for 2002 World Cup, watching from the bench as Jason McAteer curled in a winner at Landsdowne Road.

Makaay, you can be sure, wastes little time reminiscing. He retired in May 2010, just days after scoring a hat-trick against Heerenveen – the same club against whom he registered a first professional goal almost two decades before. Appointed as a striking coach at Feyenoord, the 43-year-old waves off suggestions that he is looking for the next Roy Makaay. He knows it will be a fruitless search. Talents like his surface but once in a generation.

By Christopher Weir @chrisw45

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