EURO Blast from the Past: Paul Bosvelt

The legendary Netherlands team of the 1970s that played Total Football and lost in consecutive World Cup finals is famous for its glorious failures, while the gifted side of the late 1980s is fondly remembered for its glittering triumph at Euro 88, but few outside Holland still talk about the side of Euro 2000.

While the 70s team had Cruyff and Neeskens and the 80s side had Gullit and Van Basten, in 2000 the Dutch had Bergkamp and Bosvelt. Perhaps it doesn’t roll off the tongue in quite the same way, but it was very nearly a winning combination.

As joint tournament hosts with Belgium (who unfortunately were rubbish) Frank Rijkaard’s side were literally unbeatable that summer. They won all three of their group games, including a victory against world champions France, before crushing Yugoslavia 6-1 in the quarter-finals.

Defensive midfielder Paul Bosvelt had been drafted into the team during the group phase in the slightly unfamiliar role of right-back, but he barely put a foot wrong as Rijkaard’s side gathered momentum on route to a semi-final against Italy in Amsterdam.

In a harrowing contest, the Netherlands missed five penalties - two during normal time and three in the shootout that followed a goalless draw. The final player to fail with his spot-kick was Bosvelt, whose miss sent Italy into a final against France.

Bosvelt could have been a champion, but instead he ended the tournament as the Dutch Gareth Southgate.

By the time he joined Manchester City three years later, he looked like a pale shadow of the warrior who had almost tasted Euro glory.

“Past it”, “over the hill”, “a bit old” and “slightly taken aback with the pace of Premiership football” were City supporters’ first impressions of Bosvelt, who has since attributed his slow start in England to “Danny Mills constantly launching balls over my head”.

“I remember thinking we’d signed Bosvelt too late,” said one fan on the Blue Moon forum.

But the Dutchman was a grizzled competitor, and slowly but surely the supporters began to appreciate his battling qualities.

This, after all, was a man who had been given a hero’s send-off at his former club Feyenoord, a year after captaining the side to victory in the Uefa Cup final.

“He looked like he smoked 60 a day and drank 10 pints each day,” said one fan.

“He was someone you wouldn’t want to meet alone in an alley,” agreed another.

These were both compliments. With his weathered features, straggly mop of blonde hair and no-nonsense approach, City fans soon came to realise that they had acquired a classic midfield hardman.

A turning point in Bosvelt’s City career was the miraculous FA Cup victory at Tottenham, when the 10-man Citizens came back from 3-0 down at half-time to win 4-3. Bosvelt scored the second goal - his first in a City shirt - in a typically committed display.

By his second season at Eastlands, Bosvelt was blossoming.

“He was very average in his first season but the following year he was superb,” recalled one City fan.

“Technically he was one of the best midfielders we’d ever had. He combined great ability in breaking up play with solid distribution,” said another.

While City had struggled in Bosvelt’s first campaign, finishing 16th in the league, the following year they were challenging for a European place.

“Bosvelt was a tough-tackling midfielder and a very intelligent footballer who could and possibly should have been Player of the Year in his second season,” said one Blue.

“He was immense. He took no prisoners and he was a good passer too,” said a fellow fan. “It was a real shame we got him late in his career.”

Because at 35 years old, Bosvelt’s fling with City was always destined to be all too brief.

“His departure back to Holland all seemed a bit sudden and surprising,” lamented one fan of Bosvelt’s transfer to Heerenveen at the end of the 2004/05 season. He played two more seasons in the Eredivisie before retiring.

Nowadays he coaches the country’s most promising young players, so he’s still a bit like the Dutch Gareth Southgate. Maybe they should give him the Holland job?

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