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Goal.com Profile: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

As Ruud Van Nistelrooy enters the twilight of his career, the next Dutch ‘killer in the box’ is already looming. The successor to Van the Man, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is a thoroughbred when it comes to goalscoring, effective both heading the ball as well as striking it with deadly efficacy.

It certainly takes a true instinct for the back of the net when former Dutch national team coach Louis van Gaal has been quoted saying about the player, "in the penalty box, he is the best player in the world, bar none."

Promising Youngster

And thus, Huntelaar has been fittingly called ‘The Hunter’. Huntelaar was born in Drempt, a city in the north of the Netherlands and began playing football at the age of five with a local football team. As a youngster, he was scouted by De Graafschap and in 1994 he signed his first youth contract at the age of 11.

In the 1997–98 season, the 14-year-old Huntelaar was the starting striker for the De Graafschap C-team and scored 33 goals in 20 matches. The following term saw him promoted to the B1 team, but the promotion failed to slow down his scoring pace and in the 1999–2000 season he became the top scorer of the B1 league with 31 goals.

PSV

Dutch giants PSV were quick to call after learning of Huntelaar’s goalscoring abilities and in 2000 the striker signed for the Eredivisie club. In his first year at PSV, Huntelaar quickly established himself as a prolific goalscorer for the A1 youth team, scoring 26 goals in 23 games to become top scorer in the youth league.

In his second season at PSV, Huntelaar was called up to the senior squad under coach Guus Hiddink. He made his first team debut on 23 November 2002 in a 0-3 away win over RBC Roosendaal, coming on as a second half substitute, but this would be his sole appearance for the Dutch giants. He was then sent out on loan to his previous club, De Graafschap, and made his senior debut for the club. In total, Huntelaar made nine Eredivisie appearances for the De Graafschap, one as a starter and eight as a substitute.

Unfortunately, he was unable to find the back of the net during those appearances and the club decided not to extend his loan. For the 2003–04 season, Huntelaar was again loaned out, this time to newly-promoted Eerste Divisie side AGOVV Apeldoorn. By the end of the season, Huntelaar had scored 26 goals in 35 appearances, finishing as the division's top goalscorer as well as being named the second division’s Player of the Season.

Heerenveen & Ajax

Huntelaar’s next signed for Frisian club SC Heerenveen, scoring in his Eredivisie debut with Heerenveen and taking his scoring tally to17 goals in 31 matches. The next year Huntelaar continued where he had left off and by the winter had scored 17 goals in 15 matches at which point top clubs from the Netherlands and abroad began seeking his signature.

Huntelaar stayed in Holland though, signing for AFC Ajax, the club he had supported as a child. Huntelaar ended his first season as Ajax’s top scorer with 16 league goals in 16 appearances, despite joining in the winter transfer window. He continued to make a habit of scoring goals for Ajax, helping the team secure a Champions League berth and by the end of the season was named Dutch Football Talent of the Year.

Over the next two and a half seasons with Ajax, Huntelaar became a goal-scoring machine, tallying an astronomical 81 goals in 111 appearances (in all competitions) as well as climbing through the ranks to claim the captain’s armband. All seemed to be promising for the Dutchman when in an early November 2008 league match against Sparta Rotterdam, Huntelaar suffered torn ankle ligaments. He would not play again for eight weeks in what turned out to be his last game for Ajax as, in a surprise bid, Real Madrid had come calling.

Real Madrid

In desperate need of a striker to step in for the injured Van Nistelrooy, Huntelaar joined Spanish giants Real Madrid for a transfer fee of €20 million. Madrid had intended to add both Huntelaar and fellow new signing Lassana Diarra to their Champions League squad, but due to careless work on the part of the Merengue front offices, they failed to realize that both players had already featured in the same season's UEFA Cup for their previous clubs.

UEFA rules mandated the allowance of only one of the pair to be registered and Madrid’s defensive frailties made Lass the obvious choice. Nonetheless, Huntelaar made the best of the blunder and worked hard to earn a place in the Madrid starting lineup. In his first few matches for Madrid he found goals difficult to come by, but he soon recovered his famously lethal efficacy, scoring eight times in a span of 11 matches and earning the nickname ‘Hunletal’ from Spanish broadcaster Andrés Montes.

Despite his knack for goals though, Huntelaar again became the subject of transfer speculation this summer as the arrivals of Kaka, Karim Benzema, and Cristiano Ronaldo at the Bernabéu made the Dutchman surplus to requirements. The Dutch international was linked to a number of clubs hoping to employ him, as Manchester United, AC Milan, and Stuttgart all expressed interest in the Hunter.

Milan

In the end it was Milan who won the race for his signature, and the 25-year-old officially joined the Rossoneri on Thursday, August 6, 2009.

Huntelaar will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of a number of former Dutch internationals who shone at San Siro, including Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit, not to mention new team-mate Clarence Seedorf.

Cyrus C. Malek, Goal.com