Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was under pressure from the day he arrived at Real Madrid. The Dutchman was expected to hit the ground running, to bulge the Bernabeu net on a regular basis, and to show that his exploits were not the result of a sub-par Eredivisie. Yet after managing eight goals in 20 appearances for the Madrid giants – being ineligible for the Champions League – Huntelaar couldn’t stand up to a quarter of a million Euros worth of arrivals, and was soon sent to Serie A and AC Milan.

With five months gone after his arrival in Italy, Huntelaar finds himself with only 10 appearances for the Rossoneri at the time of writing so far in Serie A, with three goals to his name, two of which came after he came on in the 84th minute against Catania, and the third through a penalty strike in a game Milan were comfortably winning against Genoa. The question being asked, not just on the peninsula is: Is Huntelaar really world class? Or should he be playing in a minor, less demanding league? And with the World Cup approaching, is it time to end his Italian adventure to boost his South African chances?

2009 wasn’t a happy year for “El Cazador”, no doubt about it. Landing at his first big club, Real Madrid, last January for €20M, the Dutchman stumbled upon his first frustration of the season when the unoccupied Champions League squad position was handed to fellow winter signing Lassana Diarra, as previous director Pedrag Mijatovic didn’t realise that a club could only register one of the pair for the Champions League – both had been involved in the UEFA Cup with Ajax and Portsmouth respectively.

After finally finding the net a month later, Huntelaar was an integral part of Madrid’s mighty yet unsuccessful struggle to overhaul Barcelona, as they finally capitulated to the Blaugrana during that memorable 6-2 thrashing in El Clasico. With presidential elections taking place at Real Madrid, the onset of new attacking players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, as well as other potential star names like Frank Ribery and David Villa being targeted, meant that a stay in the Spanish capital would be catastrophic for the PSV starlet. Huntelaar experienced the pain of being dropped from Los Blancos’ pre-season program, before relenting and agreeing to a move to AC Milan in August.

In Italy, Huntelaar took three months to notch his first goal, taking time to settle in Europe’s fashion capital, before opening his new account with two impressive strikes against Catania in the dying minutes of a Serie A encounter. That late penalty against Genoa only stands out for the reason that it is his only other goal.

Does that mean that Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is not as good as many have thought, and that his inability to find the net habitually for the Rossoneri means he has failed at the highest level? Not quite so.

After breaking out at Heerenveen, and up until his departure from Spain last summer, the forward preserved one of Europe’s deadliest and most lethal goal-per-game ratios, with 0.70 goals per game to his name. His three-year spell at Eredivisie giants Ajax was notably his best, as he managed to score 105 goals in just 136 matches, of which 76 goals came in 92 league games alone.

Finally being able to break his goalscoring duck at Real Madrid, Huntelaar continued to score with relative ease, and had he been given a vote of confidence by Florentino Perez, then Karim Benzema would probably still be at Lyon. Who is to say that the Dutchman wouldn’t have continued his progress?

However, the situation wasn’t quite as clear cut as that, and now in a team that opts for an ultra-offensive formation with three attacking berths, the Oranje striker failed to claim even one of them, with Marco Boriello, Alexandre Pato and Ronaldinho being the ideal choices of coach Leonardo. One could say that Pato holds an “un-droppable” passport, and that Ronaldinho is relishing revisiting the form of his life as a Milanese, but what about Boriello? Does he hold a superior aerial threat, a greater goalscoring instinct, and better positioning than the former Real Madrid striker? Hardly not. For Huntelaar not to break into the first-team is to overlook his previous achievements, and a dismissing of his much vaunted potential. 

So far, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has failed to amaze at two European giants, after being established in Holland as the next Ruud van Nistelrooy, or even, whisper it quietly, Marco van Basten, and encouraging pundits all across Europe to question how great he really is. With his Milan career going nowhere fast, he now has a golden opportunity in the January transfer window to make a decisive exit, this time to a more suitable club at which he can truly show his stripes, and earn that much wanted ticket to the Dutch squad that will travel to South Africa for the World Cup.
For now, his boarding card to Johannesburg remains tucked in Bert van Marwijk’s jacket pocket.


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