In our blogging world, there are very few Europeans. Perhaps due to this, it seems that everyone knows our European friends. There's the Frenchman, The Card Papoy, who burst onto the blogging scene a year ago and is now having an anniversary contest to celebrate. Just yesterday, I had my first contact with The Italian Completist, the only Italian collezionista di carte di baseball of which I am aware (and please, blame me for the translation if it sucks, because I tried learning Italian 7 years ago for a trip there and barely any of it stuck).
The longest tenured blogger from Europe of which I am aware -- that is still around, at least -- is Jeroen, the Dutch Card Guy. Back when I had my 1-year anniversary/300th post giveaway, he asked me if I might send him a few cards. I packaged up some cards for the Netherlands and sent them off. Jeroen recently returned the favor and sent me some cards.
I've mentioned in the past that I follow European soccer/football -- mainly the English game, and mainly Manchester United. So, to come up with a theme for this post, I'm going down that road. Yup, let's talk Dutch players for United and use them to introduce the cards. To make sense of it, I'm going from most appearances to fewest, using mufcinfo.com as my guide...which, to be fair, has different numbers for appearances than Wikipedia has.
Most Appearances: Edwin van der Sar
Van der Sar joined United from Fulham in 2005 at the age of 34 and stayed through the end of the 2011 season, making 266 appearances for the Red Devils. At first I was a bit surprised by the move, in part because I didn't know much about van der Sar and because his move to United hastened Tim Howard's move to Everton soon after. Van der Sar, though, was really the first goalkeeper at United to truly replace the great Peter Schmeichel in net, and he was in goal when United defeated Chelsea on penalties in Moscow in 2008 to win the Champions League. I follow VDS on Twitter, but most of the time he tweets in Dutch because he is a marketing director with Ajax, his boyhood club.
Goalkeepers are kind of like catchers in a way -- keepers get to use their hands, wear big gloves, and rarely venture away from their position, while catchers are the only ones to face the rest of the players, wear big gloves, and rarely venture away from their position. So, here's a Dave Nilsson card that Jeroen sent to me:
Second: Ruud van Nistelrooy
Ruud joined United in 2001 from PSV Eindhoven. His transfer was delayed by a year due to a terrible knee injury that he suffered. Van Nistelrooy got his knee worked on in the United States, learned English well, and even became a commentator in the United States for the 2014 World Cup. RVN made 219 appearances for United, scoring a whopping 150 goals in that time. He left United in 2006 for Real Madrid after falling out with United's rising star, Cristiano Ronaldo, for Ronaldo's ball hogging. The rift between van Nistelrooy and Ronaldo led to a rift between van Nistelrooy and Sir Alex Ferguson. Ronaldo was younger and, frankly, the more vital player for the team, so Ruud left.
Somewhat similarly, the Brewers tried, but failed, to keep Prince Fielder happy. There was no rift between the remaining superstar, Ryan Braun, and Fielder of which I was aware, but Fielder left for greener pastures nonetheless. Here are the Fielder cards that came my way from the Netherlands:
Third: Jaap Stam, 127 appearances
Stam played just three seasons in Manchester after he joined United -- also from PSV -- in 1998. Stam was an imposing center back who got in trouble with Sir Alex Ferguson for being too honest in his autobiography. Stam said that Ferguson made the approach to buy Stam and sign him without PSV's approval -- that's called "tapping up" and, as you might guess, is not allowed.
Later, Ferguson said that the decision to sell Stam wasn't because of the book but rather because Stam was struggling a bit to come back from injury. Stam was sold to Lazio for a lot of money, but showed Ferguson up by playing another 6 years at a top level -- 3 seasons at Lazio, two seasons at AC Milan, and one final season (and a couple of extra games) with Ajax.
One blemish on Stam's career was being suspended in 2001 for testing positive for nandrolone, a steroid. I bet you can see where this is going:
Fourth: Robin van Persie, 105 appearances
Another Dutch striker is fourth on the total appearances chart with 105. In those games, he's scored 58 goals. Van Persie came over from Arsenal in 2012 after playing for Feyenoord in the Netherlands until 2004. Sir Alex Ferguson viewed Van Persie as the missing link to securing a 20th league title and go past Liverpool for the most league titles in England. Or, as Ferguson put it: "My greatest challenge is not what is happening at the moment, my greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their f**king perch. And you can print that."
Van Persie may be on his way out of Old Trafford despite having his countryman Louis van Gaal as the manager, though. If he does leave now, he'll still be thought of fondly.
Is there a good analog in the Brewers cards from Jeroen? Not really, though maybe Jeromy Burnitz might qualify as a guy who came up elsewhere, did well for my team, and then/now moves on.
Fifth: Arnold Muhren, 98 appearances
Muhren was the first Dutchman to play for United. He made his name in England with Ipswich Town after transferring to the Tractor Boys from Twente. Wherever Muhren went, he won -- even winning the UEFA Cup with Ipswich before winning two FA Cups in Manchester. After leaving United in 1985, he went back to the Netherlands and to Ajax. He closed out his international career by providing the great Marco van Basten with the cross that van Basten volleyed in against the Soviet Union to win the European Championships in 1988.
There really is no analog for Muhren in Brewer history, so here are a couple of middle infielders instead: Jose Valentin and Rickie Weeks.
Sixth: Raimond van der Gouw, 60 appearances
We're getting into the lesser names here now. Van der Gouw is another goalkeeper. He spent six years with United, mostly as a backup to Peter Schmeichel and Fabian Barthez though getting his chance to play in the 1999-2000 season when Mark Bosnich became a nightmare in goal. Van der Gouw was always wanting to coach and teach and even served as the youth goalkeeping coach while he served as an active player for United in the late 1990s. He played all the way until the age of 44 with AGOVV Apeldoorn, a club which went bankrupt in 2013 and no longer exists as a professional club.
A similarly good soldier in my opinion is Geoff Jenkins. Jeroen sent me two of his cards:
Seventh: Jordi Cruyff, 58 appearances
Jordi Cruyff. What an odd name. His father is, of course, the great Johan Cruyff -- he of the uncompromising style of football that calls for constant movement and a lot of passing. Johan played for and coached in Barcelona for many years, and Pep Guardiola credits Johan for the tiki-taka style of play that led Barcelona to the top of the Champions League and Spain to the World Cup in 2010.
That matters because Sant Jordi -- Saint George -- is one of the most important saints in Catalonia and is the second most important national Catalonian feast. Thus, Jordi Cruyff reflected his father's place of professional happiness and importance.
The problem with Jordi, though, was he was always injured. He missed games for knee injuries and ankle injuries, and he also had the distinct disadvantage of playing best as a left winger -- the home of the legend, Ryan Giggs.
Injuries ruined Ben Sheets, Cal Eldred and Corey Hart too. All tried or continue to try to play on after the injury problems, but they have never been (or never could be) the same.
Eighth: Daley Blind, 29 Appearances
I admit it: I really like Daley Blind as a player. I feel much more secure watching the defense when Blind is at left back rather than Luke Shaw, though Blind might be better as a defensive midfielder. Hopefully, he continues to develop his offensive skills, because his play in midfield could be a bit ponderous at times. He seems better suited to play as a ball-playing defender rather than a midfielder, oddly enough.
What scares me is that I felt the same way when the Brewers drafted B.J. Surhoff back in 1985. I thought he was the answer at catcher, even if his skills were not necessarily "catcher" skills. The team plugged him in where needed -- sort of what van Gaal did this year with Blind -- and eventually Surhoff left to find a place where he could play one position. We'll see what happens with Blind, but here's a great Stadium Club card from Jeroen of Surhoff that went in my player collection:
Jeroen, I hope I have done your Brilliant Orange proud with this post. Thank you for the great cards and the great Dutch players at Manchester United too!