On Sunday, Feyenoord ended their 18-year title drought with a 3-1 win over Heracles Almelo. They won via an emphatic close-range finish from a narrow angle, a neatly flicked header and a converted penalty. And all three goals to clinch a first Eredivisie title since 1999 came from one man: Dirk Kuyt.
In a year of European football that has seen a lot of business as usual, with Bayern running roughshod in Germany and Chelsea surging back to the top of the Premier League after a lost season, Feyenoord's glory is filled with the kind of magic we may have been missing a little this season. It's not in the same league as Leicester's title, granted, but it's special all the same. And it owes a great deal to that indefatigable cult hero and club captain who sealed it with a nifty hat trick.
Dirk Kuyt is 36, turning 37 at the end of July. To many football fans, he carries "that guy" status: a player you're familiar with but not particularly aware of. Since breaking into professional football in 1998, he's had five long stints with four clubs over nearly 20 years, bestowing his modest talents on Utrecht, Liverpool, Fenerbahce and Feyenoord (twice). And since returning to the Dutch top flight in 2015, he carried a singular mission: bring the league title to Feyenoord after a seemingly interminable drought.
He began strongly on that path, too: having left the Netherlands back in 2006 as a two-time Dutch Golden Shoe winner and Dutch Footballer of the Year to join Liverpool, those first few months back in Feyenoord made it seem like he never left. Kuyt scored 10 goals in his first 11 games back at the club and while his side finished third last season, a full 21 points behind champions PSV, he still led the team in goals (23 in all competitions) and the Dutch Cup.
This season, he scored 12 goals and notched nine assists, good for third on the team behind Nicolas Jorgensen (21 goals, 11 assists) and Jens Toonstra (14 goals, nine assists). All at an age that sees many players (except Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Francesco Totti) head for the pundit's chair.
And all while being, bluntly, a limited player with seemingly infinite workrate and unlimited energy.
Former Ajax and AZ winger Kenneth Perez summed up Kuyt's style of play on Dutch TV midway through the 2015 season. "Has he ever been a player who runs past two men and blasts the ball into the top corner? Has he ever been a player with very sophisticated technique? No! This is Kuyt. He does rock hard work for the team.
"Through his work ethic he inspires players, and he is so incredibly important for Feyenoord. I really would not question him. Kuyt is really a great addition."
It was a vibe that has resonated throughout Kuyt's career. "You could call him 'Mr. Duracell' because of the way he plays, always running and always on the go," said then-Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez back in 2009. "But we knew when we signed him that he was that sort of player, because he has been doing it for years."
Yet even in a sport that's evolved from a broadly specific way to play each position, to free-form "total football" in which every player was fluid and interchangeable, and then back again to a more specific division of labour, Kuyt has simply kept running.
- Feyenoord Rotterdam (@Feyenoord) May 15, 2017
It would be glib to ascribe Feyenoord's success to a few trenchant quotes and the persistence of a man from Katwijk aan Zee, of course. After all, they're a team known as "De club van het volk," or "club of the people" and there are many who should take credit for their success.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst's understated mode of leadership -- and a key decision to bring the 1999 title-winning captain into his coaching staff -- helped gel a squad of young talent (Rick Karsdorp, Terence Kongolo), players with a lot to prove and experienced veterans into a cohesive, coherent shape.
There were timely and consistent contributions from stars that had faded at their previous clubs: Karim El-Ahmadi left relegated Aston Villa to anchor Feyenoord's midfield. Eljero Elia and Stephen Berghuis never quite clicked in their Premier League stints with Southampton and Watford, returning home to get back to basics. Former Liverpool reserve goalkeeper Brad Jones played 32 of 34 league games, conceding just 25 goals.
Feyenoord play in the 4-3-3 style so popularized and beloved in Dutch football, peppering teams with attacks from the wings. Tonny Vilhena quelled transfer talk with a renaissance season in midfield. And throughout it all was Dirk Kuyt, settled into a new roaming central midfield role and chipping in with important goals.
To wit, his hat trick on Sunday, one that bore all the hallmarks of the Kuyt that captured the hearts and passion of Liverpool fans for six seasons.
The first saw him slip but regain his composure to seize on his marker's slip before hammering it in from a tight angle.
- Die uit zuid! (@FeyahnoordScf) May 14, 2017
Next came a classic striker's goal, drifting to the near post unmarked with a late burst of pace to meet a gorgeous cross with a diving header.
- Simon Bell (@sb007ck) May 14, 2017
Finally, he showed every bit of his experience to calmly send the goalkeeper the wrong way from the penalty spot.
- Jasper Janssen (@JasJanssen) May 14, 2017
Sweetly, they were his 100th, 101st and 102nd goals for the club. A personal hallmark to go with the broader glory.
Kuyt will never be that Hall of Fame, box office player. He won't be remembered for his dedication to a single club or his astronomical accomplishments on a star-studded team, nor will he be hailed for some improbable strike to win a Champions League. Then again, he doesn't need to be. Kuyt is the guy you want on your team, filling the gaps your flaws can't mask. He's the guy you need on your team, too.