London – Justin Kluivert may have turned 18 only two weeks ago but, as the Ajax forward prepares to face Manchester United in Wednesday’s Europa League final, he is completely unfazed, both about the game and about having one of the most distinctive names in football. “Every advantage has his disadvantage and every disadvantage has his advantage,” he says when asked about the burden of being a Kluivert.
His father, Patrick, was one of the most prolific strikers between 1995 and 2004, coming up with the winner against Milan in the Champions League final for Ajax aged 18 and later shattering scoring records for Barcelona and Holland. “Being his son draws a lot of attention and expectation,” Justin Kluivert says. “It puts pressure on me but luckily I’m never nervous. Well … only when I took my second exam to get my driver’s licence. But never when I play football.”
Justin never thought about putting his first name on his back to release some pressure, unlike Johan Cruyff’s son, Jordi. “I’m proud of carrying this surname; my ambition is to make it even more famous,” Justin says. “That’s what I’m doing now.” He has two brothers, Quincy (20) and Ruben (15). Justin, by far the smallest of the three, thinks they can also make it to professional football, though Ruben still plays at an amateur club. “He’s a tall defender.”
On the subject of being burdened by genes, among Ruben’s team-mates are Maxim Gullit, the son of Ruud, and Estelle Cruyff, Johan Cruyff’s niece. Gullit Jr was once scouted by Ajax but was suffering from growing pains at the time.
Quincy played at Ajax for one year in the youth academy and is joining the youth team of the Dutch cup winners, Vitesse Arnhem. “He’s big and strong and has a good shot,” Justin says. “So we’re all quite different players.”
Against Manchester United in Stockholm Justin will face Daley Blind, the son of Danny Blind, who was the captain of the Louis van Gaal babes that conquered Europe in 1995 and also won the World Club Championship that year, with Blind Sr scoring the decisive penalty in the shootout against the Brazilian side Grêmio (after Kluivert père had missed the opener). Daley Blind won four consecutive Eredivisie titles before Danny’s mentor, Van Gaal, took him to Old Trafford in the summer of 2014. Justin says: “It’s not that every kid of a good football player walks the same path as their father. You have to be lucky with your body and have the right mind-set.”
Kluivert Jr has never been one for clever tricks or ostentatious solos. “I just take the shortcut to the goal and I am more a team player. My dad tells me to be sometimes more selfish in front of the goal.”
Although he is an attacker, there are a lot of differences between his playing style and that of his father, who is now football director at Paris Saint-Germain. Justin is more like Arsenal’s Theo Walcott, cutting inside from the wing rather than being a target man. “I’m smaller, quicker and more mobile than my father. Besides scoring I always look to give an assist.”
That Justin, who made his first-team debut in January and has 14 league appearances (two goals, four assists), is walking in his father’s footsteps so far is something he “couldn’t dream about”. But then showing his confidence – with half a dozen Europa League games, two of them starts, under his belt – he says: “Hopefully I can score as well in my first European final, just like my father did.”
He has seen the 1995 Champions League final a lot. “Especially his goal.” It was not the most beautiful goal, Justin acknowledges. “He just put it in with the top of his shoe. But the less beautiful goals count as well. It was the goal of a go-getter, he really had to stretch for it.”
Daley Blind told the magazine Helden that he knew the whole 1995 season by heart. Unlike the Kluiverts, Danny and Daley worked together professionally. When Daley moved up to Ajax’s first team, Danny was assistant coach. Later on in the national team, Danny was first assistant and later head coach, before being sacked at the end of March.
Because Danny did not always take the side of the influential club legend Johan Cruyff, he was not always cheered on at Ajax. As a result Daley had the feeling that he was also punished by some fans and the media for his father’s choices. “But in the end it only made me stronger.”
Daley already has more caps (44) than his father (42), but has a long way to go if he wants to surpass his father’s trophy-winning exploits.
He looks more like his father as a player than Justin Kluivert does his. Both Blinds started out in midfield but turned out to be at their best at wing-back or centre-back. Daley said he is more emotional and less organised than his father, though.
There was an element of destiny that Daley, named after Britain’s double Olympic decathlon champion, Daley Thompson, would become a good athlete, although there are no other outstanding football players in the family. His mother, Yvonne, was a talented basketball player at a semi-professional level. She was a fearless, fanatical player. According to Danny, his wife lacked only what he himself had plenty of: tactical skills.
Daley Blind has said: “My father has taught me so much. We talk after every game, discuss what was good and not good. But when I have a hard time, I talk a lot with my mother, because she is more emotional too.”
Justin Kluivert also gets “101 suggestions” about what to improve from his father. “He keeps me on the edge. That’s how I become a better player.”
He is on course to be the third generation of his family that proves to be a star in their country. His grandfather Kenneth Kluivert, nicknamed Bossa Nova, was a skilful striker in Surinam, playing for Robin Hood and the national team. A niece from Justin’s mother’s side is also a good football player, Justin says.
Justin looks at Cristiano Ronaldo as an example. “He plays in the same position. I really admire his skills but also his mentality, in the way that he truly lives for football, even at his age and having achieved so much. I saw the documentary about him and thought: ‘I want to be like him.’”
He thinks mentality is just as important as having the right genes. “At PSV there is a big billboard saying: ‘Working hard beats talent, if talent doesn’t work hard.’”
His ambitions are not small. “My wish is to become the best player in the world,” he says without blinking. “You have to pick up everything you come across, put it in your backpack, get it out when needed, train hard and show your class at every opportunity. And don’t talk about it but really mean it and do everything for it.”
While Danny Blind gradually got better, Patrick Kluivert’s career tailed off when he was still in his 20s. He opened a discotheque in Barcelona and did not seem fully focused any more. Justin says: “He had bad luck with injuries. I have the same spirit as Ronaldo. I want to improve every day, not just as a player, but as a human being. I don’t want to regret that I haven’t done enough to reach my goals.”
He was pulled up by his team-mate Matthijs de Ligt, who is three months younger than Kluivert, in the Europa League semi-final against Lyon when he did not help the defence enough. “He was right, I have to learn from that,” Kluivert says.
De Ligt comes from a family whose sporting prowess is limited to occasionally playing tennis or hockey for fun. Kluivert says: “You see, it doesn’t matter if you have a famous name on your back or not. You have to make your own way.”
The Gordian Sport