Two boys who would become the highest and third highest goalscorers for Oranje: Patrick Kluivert and Ruud van Nistelrooy. Two boys who never played together at a major championship. That should say something about their careers - one the tortoise, the other the hare, both suffering injuries. One suffering a spiralling drop in form.
I asked on Twitter a while back whose career would you rather have: Kluivert's or van Nistelrooy's? Answer in the comments section.
It is about equal on trophies - van Nistelrooy has more league titles (5) to Kluivert's four and more cups but Kluivert's ace in the hole is a Champions League win.
In terms of longevity of carrer, van Nistelrooy is still playing consistenly at the age of 35 (and at a decent level) compared to Kluivert who retired at 32 but who had been on a downward spiral for years.
At the international level, Kluivert wins, I think. A semi-final at the 1998 World Cup and a semi-final at Euro 2000. Kluivert was one of the players of the tournament. van Nistelrooy, for all his goals and caps, he never shone like Kluivert did nor did any of the teams he play in hit the same heights internationally.
But these stats and thoughts aren't the be all and end all.
Kluivert was the archetypal wonderkid. van Nistelrooy was the archetypal late developer. When Kluivert was scoring that goal in a Champions League final, van Nisteloory was playing for FC Den Bosch. Kluivert was, naturally, a far better player. He had all the tricks in the book. No one would have believed that van Nistelrooy would go on to score so many goals for Holland. No one would have believed that Kluivert would have scored so few (I know he is the all-time top goalscorer but the hype around him was that he would obliterate records).
Kluivert was probably the most versatile striker in the world at his peak, probably the best all-round striker to boot. He could score goals with his head, his left-foot and his right-foot. He could power past people or glide by them. His touch was gossamer like but could, on demand, pull out the hammer. His link-up play was superb but he could also create goals for himself.
His header, at 30 seconds in the video below, was perfection.
But where Kluivert wins in natural ability, van Nistelrooy wins in terms of attitude and mentality. Moreover, Kluivert's fall suggests we should pour scorn on him for not using that ability.
van Nistelrooy is a player who started not at the footballing aristocracy that is Ajax but at Den Bosch, who fought back from a career-threatening injury only to get better and hit higher peaks. A player who no one was talking about when Kluivert was dominating Europe. A player who has enjoyed consistent success over these last ten years.
If you were a coach, who would you want in your dressing room? If you were a player, would you rather have the natural ability or the drive to eke everything out of the ability you absolutely have?
Despite all that I lean towards Kluivert. But then I'm an old romantic who wonders what he might have achieved.RCM