He is … the ‘adopted Scouser’. The machine in Benitez’s attack. The underwhelming acquisition who went on to become an undisputed fan favourite in the red half of Merseyside.
Before the glory days of Virgil Van Dijk and former Red Gini Wijnaldum, there was Dirk Kuyt.
Joining Liverpool in 2006 for £10m from Feyenoord where he racked up an impressive 71 goals in 101 league appearances. Considering he was signed from the Dutch Eredivisie, a league miles behind the English Premier League in terms of competitiveness, hopes for Kuyt at Anfield were understandably far from sky high.
Though to say that Kuyt surpassed these low expectations would be nothing but an understatement.
More than just an engine, Dirk Kuyt was the unsung hero driving Benitez’s Liverpool front line alongside Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. While the Dutchman may never plaudits on the same level as the duo, Kuyt came up clutch when Liverpool needed him the most, cementing his status as a ‘big-game player’ on several occasions.
Kuyt netted 71 goals in 286 games for Liverpool (all competitions), a statistic which may seem wildly disappointing compared to his Feyenoord record; however, Kuyt’s contributions on and off the pitch played a pivotal role in his rise to ‘cult hero’ status.
The sheer passion and commitment that he offered to the Liverpool family has never gone unheard.
In his first season, Kuyt hit double figures in the league (12 goals) and made his presence known in the UEFA Champions League by rising to the occasion when the stakes were at their highest.
Kuyt memorably dispatched the winning penalty against Chelsea at an electric Anfield, sending the hosts into the final to meet familiar foes AC Milan. Though the Italian giants got their revenge against Liverpool after the heroics of 2005, Kuyt scored a consolation goal to give the Reds a glimmer of hope of something that wasn’t to be.
It was a moment which remains demonstrative of Dirk Kuyt’s never-say-die attitude on the pitch, dedicating 110% to the cause regardless of the circumstances.
Kuyt’s successful first season on Merseyside would go on to be an indicator of the type of player that Liverpool had invested in. Before the days of James Milner, Kuyt transformed into Liverpool’s ‘Mr Reliable’ alongside Gerrard.
His return in terms of goals may seem unremarkable at first glance but you would be foolish to write off the Dutchman on his day. Liverpool fans undeniably have fond memories of Dirk Kuyt. His famous hat-trick against arch-enemies Manchester United in the 2010/11 season will never be forgotten.
Three of the simplest goals, Kuyt proved on that day the importance of being at the right place at the right time. The payoff from Kuyt’s resilience in that Anfield showdown was gargantuan, it gave Liverpool fans a glimmer of hope and joy during a frustrating period for the team in terms of results.
Facing Merseyside rivals Everton became an enjoyable experience for Kuyt. Similar to Suarez’s delight against Norwich, though not quite as deadly, Kuyt netted 5 goals against Everton during his Liverpool career. Former manager Rafa Benitez described the forward as being irreplaceable after netting the winner against them in 2010.
Wreaking havoc consistently against his side’s bitter rivals contributed to Kuyt’s elevation as a fan favourite in the Liverpool family, the Dutchman became the salt in Everton’s wounds.
Dirk Kuyt’s final season at the club was his most underwhelming, scoring just twice in the league.
With that said, Kuyt left Liverpool with one major contribution in his final season, one which arguably eclipsed his heroics against Manchester United in the 2010/11 season. Kuyt was instrumental in guiding Liverpool to their first major silverware since the 2005/06 FA Cup, bagging a dramatic extra-time goal which would later help Liverpool win the 2011/12 League Cup.
The League Cup triumph would go on to be the only piece of silverware in Dirk Kuyt’s Liverpool trophy cabinet.
Perhaps it is the lack of silverware which explains why Kuyt’s legacy is not viewed with greater appreciation. Success in either of the acclaimed competitions (Premier League and Champions League) would have undoubtedly cemented Kuyt’s position as a Liverpool legend. So close yet so far, Liverpool and Kuyt only managed to finish runners-up in both competitions.
Legendary? No. Cult hero? Absolutely.
One must look further than Liverpool’s trophy record during Kuyt’s career to recognise that the Dutch international gave every ounce of sweat for the team. His down-to-earth style of play may be incomparable to former teammates Luis Suarez and Fernando Torres but that is what made Kuyt unique.
The Dutchman respected the Liverpool faithful, he committed his heart to the team and the fans, even in the darkest times under Roy Hodgson. These are the reasons why Kuyt is a Liverpool ‘cult hero’, he bled Liverpool red throughout his career and still does to this day.
Kuyt’s love for Liverpool is eternal. In 2016, the Dutchman described Scousers as being ‘good, hard-working people’. Labelling Kuyt as a fan favourite would not do the retired forward enough justice. In addition, Kuyt melted the hearts of Liverpool fans worldwide when he described himself as being proud to be an ‘adopted Scouser’.
This statement came after Kuyt spoke of his jubilation in being ridiculed by 60,000 fans at Old Trafford during a game for Feyenoord against Manchester United. Even after he left Liverpool, his commitment to the Liverpool family remains powerful.
Whether it be at striker or right winger, Dirk Kuyt always understood the assignment and gave his all for the club. While it may be far-fetched to consider him a Liverpool legend, his services to the club cannot be overlooked. His status as a ‘cult hero’ remains untouchable.