On a normal Sunday, the 7th of October 2007 to be precise, something extraordinary happened. No, I’m not referring to the unprecedented 8 Premier League games played on the Lord’s rest day, and the subsequent airing of a confusing MOTD 2 episode which bore much greater resemblance the normal Match of the Day programme (though if you’re interested, you can read about this phenomenon and the problems it posed to the BBC team here).
No, this wonder, this miracle, this extraordinary event, had the in-many-ways-unlikely (predictable outcome of the league, with a definitive top 4) and in-many-ways-likely (poor defences, great gulfs between the quality of top and bottom sides) setting of the Dutch Eredivisie. And what makes this event even more unbelievable is the fact that most football websites and journalists barely blinked, barely cast even a cursory glance towards the marvel.
In an otherwise bog-standard start to the league season (Feyenoord, PSV and Ajax fighting it out for the top spot, the latter two undefeated and the former top with 6 wins and 1 loss from the opening seven games), the man to break through the monotony, the golden boy of the moment, is none other than Alfonso Alves of Heerenveen.
Alfonso Alves of 11th-placed Heerenveen scored 7 goals (yes, seven!) in the club’s 9-0 romp against struggling Heracles. And whilst the defending might have been calamitous, we’re not talking about tap-ins either; his second goal, a Pirlo-style free-kick, was an absolute pearler. For anyone who’s interested, the other two goals were scored by ex-Sheffield Wednesday midfielder Gerald Sibon. Alves’ feat, a record for any major league in Europe, will surely not be repeated anytime soon.
The fact that Alves remained at Heerenveen during the close-season was itself a matter for surprise, especially given the rumoured interest from England, Italy and Spain. Heerenveen are an above-average Dutch side who often challenge for the UEFA Cup spots, but rarely offer anything extraordinary, other than the conveyor-belt of exceptional strikers who have passed through the club’s books: Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Klaas Van Huntelaar, Jon Dahl Tomasson, and a few more. Alves has changed all of that. Not only did Alves score some 34 league goals in just 31 games last season, a phenomenal record that is belittled by UEFA’s Golden Boot league-specific co-efficients, but he did so in some style, with many of his goals coming after Ronaldo (at Inter and Barca) style runs, and a few coming from direct free kicks.
When will Alves’ big move come? Alves is tall and strong, pacy and skillful and is evidently an excellent finisher. Arguments have been made about his age and his lack of experience in a top-class league (though we should remember that it is not as if Alves’ record in the Swedish is a poor one; Alves is clearly not a Rolando Bianchi one-season-wonder, nor a Mateja Kezman “one-league-wonder”).
In any case, Didier Drogba and Ruud Van Nistelrooy are both perfect examples of world-class strikers who did not play for a big club until they were well into their twenties, and who have excelled (in the case of the Ivorian, after having turned professional at 23!) in spite of their lack of previous experience in the “big leagues”. If Sunday’s showing is anything to go by, the move will come soon, though the big question is: which of the big clubs will sign up the lethal marksman?
Note: here’s the link to the highlights of the match.