An ode to Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, the master of just scoring goal after goal

In Depth

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has scored more than 400 career goals just by being really good at putting the ball into the back of the net at the expense of everything else. And that’s fine.

The Ajax striker has scored more than 150 of those goals for the Dutch side, hitting double figures in each of his six full seasons in Amsterdam, while a record of 42 international goals in 78 games is better than most ‘elite’ forwards of his generation.

However, arguably his best goal and also his most Huntelaar goal came in the blue of Schalke.

The 2013-14 season wasn’t a vintage one for the Dutchman, with injuries ruling him out of almost half of the season. As a result, he only ended up scored one Champions League goal, but what a goal it was.

It wasn’t the most important – indeed, it’s hard to think of a less important goal in the history of the competition – but it has lived longer in the memory than any scored by Real Madrid on the same evening.

The result may have felt like a formality, given Real Madrid’s 20 group stage goals to Schalke’s six. Still, there are occasions where the knockout rounds can produce some surprises.

This was not one of those occasions.

Real Madrid scored the first goal in Germany. And the second. And the third, fourth, fifth and sixth.

You don’t remember any of those, though, do you? All you can remember from this game is Huntelaar, with his team 6-0 down at home and on their way out before the second leg, scoring the best goal of his career.

It’s the strike of a man who doesn’t just know where the goal is, as the cliche goes, but who seemingly has the power to drag the ball into his orbit when it seems too far away.

Huntelaar has the directness of a foosball striker, finding the most direct route to goal at all times. You assume there must have been some movement in there at some point, but it’s so subtle and unintrusive that you can’t prove it was ever there.

As for the hit itself, it feels like he decides a simple low strike would be unremarkable enough to leave him in danger of seeing his contribution forgotten. As we know, though, a shot clipping the underside of the bar on its way into the net gives it the same level of mark-up as a nutmeg en route to a solo effort.

He was in no mood to let trivialities like ‘the scoreline’ or ‘Real Madrid just being significantly better than Schalke’ get in the way of his priorities, and rightly so.

Tony Yeboah might have mastered the in-off-the-bar thunderbolt, but Huntelaar produced the goods when it really mattered, by which we mean when it didn’t matter. in the slightest.

We’d seen Huntelaar contribute in a more meaningful way against Arsenal the previous season, but both goals share a certain single-mindedness.

This is a man who is in the team to score goals, so every time he’s not scoring goals you’re never too far away from someone asking themselves what’s up.

“It seems like they have cloned him from Marco van Basten,” Real Madrid coach Bernd Schuster said in 2008, shortly before Huntelaar made the move to the Spanish capital, and he had his compatriot’s quality of getting himself in the right place before anyone else knew where the right place even was.

It’s not so much a case of Huntelaar knowing where the goal is, but the goal recognising where Huntelaar is and responding accordingly.

The striker who just does the finishing part of the game at an elite level feels like a dying breed, but Huntelaar is pushing back against the tide.

Even this season, at the age of 36, he has scored 10 goals at a rate of one every 95 minutes. There’s a lot to be said for knowing how to get yourself into the right positions, even when your game has never really been about a great deal more than that.

It might not be the most valuable skill to have, but that doesn’t matter when you’re one of the best around.

By Tom Victor

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