Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is currently one of Europe’s top goal-scorers with 23 goals already and yet it’s a statistic that has taken many by surprise.
It doesn’t seem so long ago now that the 28-year old Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was a “ wonderkid” and was consistently being linked to every major European club. Comparisons to compatriots Marco van Basten and Ruud van Nistelrooy were common and it seemed like it was only a matter of time before Huntelaar would move on from Ajax and leave the Netherlands behind for bigger and better things.
When “the Hunter” (a nickname that was ever so inevitable) finally did make his big-money move it was perhaps not under the truest of circumstances. His €20,000,000 move to Real Madrid in January 2009 was mostly due to Ruud van Nistelrooy’s serious knee injury back in November 2008 that finished off his season early. It meant that with only Raúl, Javier Saviola, and Gonzalo Higuaín left and Juande Ramos (a replacement for the short term reign of Bernd Schuster) and his Madrid felt they needed another striker up front.
January is frequently a difficult time for new signings to impress at their new club. In the summer players get a period of pre-season and time to adjust to their new environment, language, culture and style of football. It was perhaps the reason Huntelaar did not quite light up the Bernabéu as many had expected – he certainly did not live up to the reputation.
It was not entirely Huntelaar’s fault – not only was he a new signing struggling to adapt to his new club but this was a very different Real Madrid than the club is now. Barcelona was the unstoppable force in La Liga and Madrid were far behind. Madrid finished with ten defeats in the league alone that season and they even signed Julien Faubert on loan. That season finished off historically with Madrid being trashed 2-6 at home to Barcelona.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar couldn’t have picked a worse time to join Real Madrid and perhaps couldn’t have picked an even worse time to leave – although in truth he hardly picked it. That summer was a huge overhaul for Madrid, the four Dutchmen of Wesley Sneidjer, Arjen Robben, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar all departed. In their place came Kaká, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Xabi Alonso.
AC Milan is not the worst club in the world to fall back onto when your time at Madrid doesn’t go exactly as planned. Once again though for Huntelaar it seemed like a case of wrong club and wrong time. Leonardo’s AC Milan side was perhaps exactly what you would expect of a first-time manager – naive and lacking a true purpose in their play.
Alexandre Pato and Marco Borriello were the main men then so Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s first team starts were much harder to come by. Indeed, his loss of confidence become apparent too as he scored just 7 times in 30 appearances for the Rossoneri.
Huntelaar made his third transfer in as many seasons in the following summer when he moved on from AC Milan to join Schalke and become the Gelsenkirchen club’s record signing.
At first you could be forgiven for perhaps assuming Huntelaar’s timing to join Schalke was off. Although the side finished as DFB-Pokal (the German cup) winners (with Huntelaar scoring a brace in the final), managed to get to the semi-final of the Champions League and won the DFL-Supercup they finished a very poor 14th in the league – barely above the relegation places and lost manager Felix Magath in March.
The Hunter hit 13 goals for Schalke that season – again not his prolific best – but at least an improvement over his time in Milan and Madrid. His goal scoring record would have been far more impressive had it not been for the fact that his debut season with Schalke included a 1,002-minute goal draught. He was also outscored by his former Real Madrid teammate, Raúl.
Things now could not be more different for the top scorer of the UEFA European Championships Qualifying phase with the Netherlands as well being currently one of the top scorers in Europe’s big leagues.
Starting the 2011/2012 season for Schalke by scoring 4 goals in his first game albeit in an 11-1 win against FC Teningen – a team in the sixth level but Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has really kicked on from that start with some outstanding goalscoring form.
Sitting now on 23 goals in just 20 games and things seem entirely different for Huntelaar. At the peak age of 28 his stock is higher now than it has been since he first left Ajax way back in 2008. It’s been a tough time for him since then but it seems under Ralf Rangnick and at Schalke he has found a new home and can prove once again that he can be one of the top strikers in football.