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The rapid decline of the once-great poacher Mateja Kezman

The rapid decline of the once-great poacher Mateja Kezman

The trendy soccer fan may be ruthless, stark and unforgiving. She or he lives in a world of prompt gratification, the place details on any topic might be obtained with the merest flick of a thumb. There’s little time for love, little room for meandering narrative. Gamers are both nice or horrible. Golf equipment are both hip or meaningless. Managers are both progressive or nugatory. Something that doesn’t meet our idea of success is disregarded inside seconds, left behind as the world spins on apace.

By way of this portal, the profession and legacy of Mateja Kežman was mangled past restore. His underperformance in the largest highlight of all left his fame in tatters. A few years of toil and genius have been ignored as a result of he failed at Chelsea, a Premier League membership that garners inordinate consideration. When Kežman didn’t dominate at the highest degree, he was written off with beautiful rapidity. Few individuals cared about civil conflict besmirching his childhood. And virtually no one cared about the raging expertise that when outlined him.

We solely care about outcomes, and he who fails to ship is hardly value excited about.

To the overwhelming majority of soccer followers, Mateja Kežman is the final avatar of failure. His transfer to Chelsea was one of the worst transfers of all-time, if in style notion is to be believed. The man might hardly maintain his stability, not to mention rating Premier League objectives with sufficient regularity to warrant consideration. He got here, he flopped, he went. Finish of dialog.

Many of these issues are incontrovertibly true. Mateja Kežman did wrestle at Stamford Bridge, and it was the starting of a exceptional demise. However I recall the earlier levels of his profession with immense fondness, for he possessed a goalscoring potential like few strikers I’ve ever seen. Certainly that talent and the lovely destruction it triggered shouldn’t be forgotten.

At Partizan and PSV, Kežman was a drive of nature, and it was a pleasure to observe his thoughts work. In fact, the incapability to showcase it on the grandest stage ought to impression his legacy, however the extent to which his bygone expertise has been airbrushed from historical past is awfully myopic.

I keep in mind watching Eredivisie matches on a small moveable tv as a child, and Kežman reigned supreme as a grasp puppeteer. He authored an infinite stream of objectives, no two the similar. It was like watching a robotic, programmed to destroy the will of opposing groups. From tap-ins and long-range benders to flick headers and emphatic volleys, Kežman did all of it. He glided at optimum velocity about the pitch, fleet of foot and faster of thoughts, hustling to the proper place at the proper time to attain. Kežman was a blur of elbows and knees, and he lived in quick movement, double the velocity anyone else in Holland might muster.

Maybe that is all contextual. Maybe it means nothing as a result of this high quality striker excelled solely in leagues of diluted high quality. However artwork must be loved regardless of the place it resides and regardless of exterior opinion. That’s undoubtedly the case for Mateja Kežman, an athletic genius in the proper context, a soccer marvel earlier than discerning eyes.

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Zlatko Kežman was knowledgeable goalkeeper throughout the 1980s for FK Zemun, a small Belgrade membership. Mateja, his son, was born in 1979, so he grew up in a soccer setting. At the age of seven, Mateja started enjoying in the youth sections of Zemun, the place he stayed for a decade with out the membership recognising his innate potential.

Shortly after his 16th birthday, Kežman moved 200 miles from his Belgrade residence to hitch FK Radnički Pirot. This was the first cease in a nomadic skilled profession that took Mateja round the world. He additionally loved temporary spells with FK Loznica and Sartid Smederevo, gaining a crash course in the tough world of Balkan soccer. Alongside the method, he piqued the curiosity of representatives from Partizan, the majestic capital membership, and Kežman signed for them in 1998.

It was a dream come true. Mateja grew up an enormous Partizan fan, even attending video games with the most hardcore fan teams. Purple Star, the sworn enemy, provided him a contract earlier, however Kežman declined. His love for Partizan was such that, after his first coaching session, he went house and slept in the package as a result of he didn’t need to take it off. He additionally cried at the thought of representing his boyhood membership, regardless of the place his profession went from there.

Sadly, a lot of Kežman’s time at Partizan was disrupted by the terror and tragedy of warfare. The previous Yugoslav First League was disbanded in 1992, as civil struggle unfold all through the nation. Partizan discovered themselves in the new First League of Serbia and Montenegro when Kežman arrived, however his first season was halted as Belgrade got here underneath assault from NATO forces.

He celebrated his 20th birthday in a bomb shelter, as any sense of normality was misplaced. Throughout this era, Kežman returned to enjoying soccer together with his buddies in the streets and that offered candy escapism. Unusually, he loved the freedom brought on by mass chaos, however soccer turned his passport to a greater life however.

Such troublesome beginnings hardened Kežman’s character. A life of uncertainty and bomb shelters taught him to struggle exhausting on the soccer pitch, and that’s precisely what he did in the black and white of Partizan. In his first season, Kežman scored eight objectives in 33 video games as a 19-year previous. Partizan gained the title, however even that was overshadowed by what the prodigal son did in the major occasion towards Purple Star.

As the clock ticked into its ninetieth minute, the recreation was deadlocked at 1-1. Partizan, the residence group, mustered one final counter-attack, which culminated in the ball falling in entrance of Kežman vast inside the penalty space. The Pink Star defence was drained, ragged and unable to shut the area. Mateja raced onwards in the direction of future, as the stadium stood nonetheless.

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Then, in a second of delirium, he crashed the ball residence with an instinctive left-foot rocket into the prime nook as pandemonium ensued. Kežman hurdled the promoting boards and was mobbed by euphoric followers. From that day on, he was thought-about a saint by Partizan followers and a villain by these of Purple Star. However it doesn’t matter what, his love of scoring objectives was clear to see, based mostly solely on the emphatic celebrations that turned so commonplace.

The following season Kežman turned the fundamental man at Partizan. He was the prime scorer with 35 objectives in 41 video games. The sight of a wiry, lightning fast talisman excited followers at the stadium, recognized colloquially as The Temple of Soccer. Kežman turned a cult hero, scoring in each recreation he ever performed towards Pink Star. These video games meant a lot to him that he typically retreated to a lodge a number of days beforehand to sharpen his focus. This was a younger man who lived for soccer and the emotion it might present.

Kežman made his worldwide debut for Yugoslavia in March 2000, scoring in a pleasant towards China. He was half of the squad for Euro 2000 however one way or the other managed to get despatched off towards Norway in his lone thirty seconds of motion.

Finally, he outgrew Partizan, and a transfer to western Europe was wanted to additional his profession. In July 2000, PSV signed him for round £8m. Legend has it that Philips, as soon as the dad or mum firm of PSV, was supposed to offer new floodlights for Partizan as half of the deal, however they by no means arrived. Including to the confusion, cost of the switch charge was delayed resulting from European Union sanctions towards Yugoslavia. However Mateja Kežman lastly arrived in Eindhoven, and the metropolis had not often seen anyone like him.

In his first season, Kežman scored 31 objectives in 49 video games for PSV, then managed by former captain Eric Gerets. He was briefly a teammate of Ruud van Nistelrooy, till the grasp poacher left for Manchester United. By the way, the Previous Trafford membership featured prominently in Kežman’s introduction to PSV, as a marvel objective towards them in the Champions League impressed the Eindhoven membership to a Three-1 victory. Kežman picked the ball up on the proper flank, twisted and turned previous a pair of challenges, then fired a shot excessive previous Raimond van der Gouw into the internet. The Philips Stadion erupted in approval as a brand new period was launched.

With Kežman scoring greater than anyone else in the league and younger stars resembling Mark van Bommel, Johann Vogel and Dennis Rommedahl meshing properly, PSV gained the Eredivisie with ease in 2001. They fell into the UEFA Cup later in the season and managed to succeed in the quarter-finals, as the components for a brand new dynasty fell into place. At the coronary heart of all of it was Kežman, who took his place alongside Van Nistelrooy, Luc Nilis, Ronaldo and Romário in a PSV goalscoring lineage traced all the method again to Coen Dillen and Willy van der Kuijlen. That was an enormous duty, however one which Kežman relished.

The Eindhoven membership took a step again in 2001/02 as Ronald Koeman revitalised Ajax in a title-winning effort. Kežman was much less prolific, however he nonetheless managed to notch 20 objectives in 41 video games. Opposing managers had a larger understanding of his recreation, and defenders have been capable of cease him operating riot, in relative phrases. However, the Serbian nonetheless maintained a nice ratio of a aim each different recreation, regardless of the season ending in frustration as bitter rivals Feyenoord dumped PSV out of the UEFA Cup.

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That value Gerets his job, and the heavyweight Guus Hiddink returned to Eindhoven as boss in July 2002. Throughout the 1980s he revolutionised the membership and led it to a sacred treble, replete with a European Cup conquer Benfica. 20 years later, Hiddink guided South Korea to a semi-final of their house World Cup earlier than recapturing energy at PSV, heralding a brand new epoch of dominance.

In his first season again, the previous grasp coaxed each drop of potential from his assets. PSV beat Ajax to the title by some extent, and each objective Kežman scored mattered immensely. All 40 of them. He benefited massively from the arrival of mercurial winger Arjen Robben from Groningen, as a continuing provide of goalscoring possibilities was ensured. The duo turned generally known as Batman and Robben, and the theme tune from that well-known present was typically performed when Kežman scored at residence. He was duly topped Dutch Footballer of the Yr, inflicting scouts round the world to take a seat up and take discover.

In February 2003, Kežman briefly retired from worldwide soccer, citing the embarrassing efficiency of Serbia & Montenegro in Euro 2004 qualifying. However, he returned to the fold a number of months later after a change of supervisor. As his fame grew, police uncovered a plot by Yugoslav criminals to kidnap Kežman and extort a ransom cost from PSV. The striker required detailed safety however continued to attain objectives. As soon as once more, soccer was his escape from a posh world, and it’s to his credit score that performances didn’t dip amid the uncertainty.

The following season, Ajax as soon as once more loved a resurgence, profitable the title by six factors. Kežman scored one other 31 league objectives to say his third golden boot in Holland, with the subsequent greatest participant, Dirk Kuyt, languishing 11 objectives behind. The pursuit for Kežman’s signature started in earnest and Chelsea appeared to have the inside monitor after agreeing on a deal for Robben halfway by way of the marketing campaign. The winger remained in Eindhoven till the summer time, at which level Kežman was additionally signed for £5.3m as José Mourinho sought to duplicate their deadly partnership in London.

In his remaining residence recreation for PSV, Kežman offered an exquisite parting present with probably the biggest objective he ever scored. Den Haag offered the opposition as PSV wore their new package for the following marketing campaign. Kežman missed a penalty early on however managed to place his workforce 2-Zero up with a wide ranging objective shortly after. The ball was performed down the left flank as he galloped freely into Den Haag territory. After carrying it for 20 yards, Kežman stopped to sq. up two hapless defenders who have been drained by his business and bamboozled by his creativeness.

Throughout, there was stillness and silence for one second, then two, then three. Out of nowhere, Kežman noticed a vacant space of the internet with wonderful peripheral imaginative and prescient and proceed to deftly clip a shot into it from an absurd place. The goalkeeper was rooted to the spot, unable to maneuver. The aim was beautiful and it additionally helped safe second place for PSV and, in consequence, qualification for the Champions League in 2004/05.

In fact, Kežman wouldn’t be there to take pleasure in that fairytale marketing campaign, as PSV pushed AC Milan all the means in a titanic semi-final. However that ultimate objective proved that, aged 25, he might not be contained by Dutch defences. However, the sight of him in these iconic PSV kits, wheeling away to rejoice one other objective, outlined a era. In complete, he scored 129 objectives in 176 video games for PSV, or one each 1.36 video games. It’s an astounding achievement which deserves larger appreciation.

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Like all the greats, Mateja Kežman noticed an image in his thoughts then proceeded to make it a actuality. At Partizan and PSV he had an outstanding sense of the place the aim was; with out wanting he knew what was wanted in any state of affairs to beat the goalkeeper. Maybe it was a roller or a thunderbolt, a aspect foot or a chip, a lob or a dink. Kežman had all the instruments in his locker, and there was a continuing sense of journey to his recreation; a probing willpower to danger all the things as a result of soccer was a recreation to be loved.

Kežman was all the time considering, inventing, conceiving. In the field, he was a calculating menace, outlined by an instinctive understanding of the place he wanted to be. He was medical, ruthless and austere in entrance of aim. He was economical in the six-yard field. He was each goalscoring cliché delivered to life, and it was enchanting to observe. But Kežman was additionally excellent in possession and a significantly underrated dribbler.

Mateja had a low centre of gravity however was tall and lean. He loved the bodily aspect of soccer however was additionally extremely quick. Kežman was a focal talisman wrapped in a winger’s soul, akin to a poor man’s Thierry Henry. There appeared little means of stopping him till the wheels got here off at Stamford Bridge and the star started to fade with immense rapidity. His was a decline like few others.

Strain lurked instantly, ominous and foreboding. Chelsea handed Kežman the quantity 9 jersey vacated by membership legend Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink after he left for Middlesbrough. Following in the footsteps of goalscoring demigods at PSV was one problem however this was one other solely. The jersey carried an inherent burden, as Mateja was anticipated to switch a fan’s favorite in efficiency and charisma alike. That didn’t finish nicely.

The anticipate his first Chelsea objective was torturous. A number of weeks glided by, then a pair of months. Strain, that ugly toxin, continued to mount, as Kežman struggled to find the expertise that when distinguished him. Lastly, he opened his account in late October 2004 with a aim in the League Cup towards West Ham. His first Premier League aim didn’t arrive till early December, and even then it was a stoppage-time penalty with Chelsea already Three-Zero up.

Kežman didn’t rating once more till March earlier than a surge late in the season made his marketing campaign look barely extra respectable. Nonetheless, he managed solely seven objectives in 41 appearances as howls of derision emanated from west London. Chelsea gained their first league title since 1955 and Kežman was an element of that regardless of how small. However he merely wasn’t the similar participant as earlier than and that would not be ignored in the most scrutinised league on earth.

Mateja did rating an important aim in extra-time of the League Cup last towards Liverpool, nudging Chelsea right into a lead that proved decisive, but the followers needed a lot extra. In equity, they supported him nicely, ready for the genius of Eindhoven and Belgrade to re-emerge. It simply by no means occurred, and Kežman turned an costly substitute by wintertime, recognized extra for selecting up silly bookings in a state of discombobulation than scoring with any adequate regularity.

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Opposite to fashionable perception, Kežman truly loved his time dwelling and enjoying in London. Regardless of claims that he did not settle, Mateja seen representing Chelsea as the pinnacle of his profession. So why couldn’t he replicate the type he had at Partizan and PSV? And the way did he go from being a participant of sensational dynamism to at least one of painful ineptitude seemingly in a single day? That is still a thriller.

“Kežman had amazing service at PSV,” says Miloš Dušanović of Serbian Footy.“He was provided with assist after assist, and the attack was pretty much set up for him to score. At Chelsea that was not the case. They had other weapons and Kežman was not the focal point. He was also played out on the wing quite often, which was not the position for him to succeed. He was a great poacher but did not do well creating chances for himself or winning challenges, and that was a major reason why he didn’t have a better career.”

Certainly, half of Kežman’s Chelsea debacle might be attributed to the step up in school. The Premier League is quicker and much more bodily than the Eredivisie, and gamers have comparatively little time during which to play. However Kežman was up to now forward of his Dutch counterparts in these areas that different elements should certainly have contributed to his demise. Definitely, he appeared extra hesitant as the objective drought wore on, however that’s solely pure. Maybe the underlying drawback was world-class coaches and defenders stifling his area, plus a Mourinho recreation plan that deployed him as simply one other participant slightly than the principal man.

At Chelsea, Kežman turned clumsy and unbalanced, not sure and reticent. Even at his zenith, he was by no means the most elegant participant, however confidence is the nice modifier of means and he merely by no means had any at Stamford Bridge. From the begin, he was only one star in the galaxy of Roman Abramovich, competing with Didier Drogba, Eiður Guðjohnsen, Damien Duff, Joe Cole and Robben for enjoying time in ahead positions. That didn’t go well with Kežman, who was accustomed to being the straw that stirred the drink.

For sure, his failure was in being unable to adapt and alter his recreation to these circumstances. That’s what the greats do, and subsequently we can’t class Kežman as an elite participant. The expertise he possessed early in his profession was merely phenomenal, however he didn’t cope with the strain of enjoying at the highest degree. These are indeniable information however individuals ought to keep in mind his complete profession, not simply its downward spiral.

Chelsea bought Kežman to Atlético Madrid after a solitary season, recouping their £5.3m outlay. Kežman instantly suffered a knee damage in Madrid and his restoration was problematic. That was the first in a collection of niggles that added one other layer to his struggles and additional derailed an excellent profession turned on its head.

Away from home soccer, Kežman did notch the aim that secured a 2006 World Cup finals place for Serbia and Montenegro. The historic strike got here towards Bosnia and Herzegovina, of all nations, as Mateja’s popularity improved again residence. He was later despatched off towards Argentina at the competitors, nevertheless, and didn’t obtain one other call-up thereafter.

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In the summer time of 2006, a transfer to Fenerbahçe beckoned as Kežman agreed a four-year deal. To a sure extent he rediscovered his goalscoring contact in Turkey, notching 11 after which 19 objectives in successive seasons, however that previous spark was nonetheless lacking. Kežman loved a robust rapport with the followers, who noticed him working onerous to duplicate the type of yore, and he gained a league title with Fener. The membership additionally reached a Champions League quarter-final towards Chelsea earlier than Kežman was loaned to Paris Saint-Germain in 2008.

In the French capital his profession spluttered to a halt, as soon as and for all. Kežman was typically jeered by followers that positioned him underneath immense strain. The relationship devolved when he threw his jersey to the floor after being subbed early in a cup recreation. PSG suspended him for 2 weeks and Kežman was booed mercilessly upon return. He was later exiled to Zenit Saint-Petersburg on mortgage earlier than having his contract terminated mutually in November 2010.

At that time, an entire lack of curiosity by European golf equipment revealed the extent to which Kežman’s inventory had plummeted. The jaded striker had two spells with South China of Hong Kong, sandwiched between a detour to BATE Borisov, and he was ultimately pressured to retire in 2011 aged simply 33.

At Partizan and PSV in the first six seasons of his profession, Kežman averaged 29 objectives per season. Over the relaxation of his profession, spanning seven golf equipment in seven nations, that common was simply eight. Mateja turned previous earlier than his time as expertise eroded and reminiscences pale away. In the finish, it was a tragic affair.

Now, at the age of 39, Kežman is a participant agent in Serbia. He has additionally coached inside the nationwide staff’s youth setup in recent times. Nevertheless, he made headlines for all the incorrect causes in 2013 for extremely controversial remarks about homosexuality that noticed respect wane as shortly as his potential. In response to a number of studies, Kežman was requested for his opinion on outstanding soccer figures corresponding to Louis van Gaal attending a Homosexual Satisfaction occasion in Amsterdam, at which level he uttered the following response: “My opinion is that this is a disease that should not be promoted, and I wouldn’t like it if the Football Association of Serbia decided one day to support the gay parade in this country. The Dutch are moving away from Jesus Christ and are heading towards spiritual destruction.”

No one is aware of whether or not Kežman was misquoted, and most of us haven’t any approach of verifying the accuracy of this reporting. However, such views are basically abhorrent. If Kežman did utter such vile phrases, they converse to a pre-historic outlook that has no place in our trendy context. Of minimal significance, additionally they additional sullied the picture and legacy of a predatory goalscorer who fell from grace.

In the finish, we might by no means know the true Mateja Kežman. His was a splintered profession and polarising character that can’t be categorised with ease. There was the troubled upbringing and the superb bathe of objectives. However there was additionally the controversial feedback and incapability to supply when it mattered most. Maybe he’s doomed to be remembered as the final flop, the goalscoring icon frozen by Premier League rigour. Hopefully there’s time and room to think about his wider work and keep in mind the participant he as soon as was, not simply the one he turned.

By Ryan Ferguson @RyanFergusonHQ