It probably took winning the Premier League in a romantic, unlikely whirlwind of a season with Leicester City in 2016, for Kasper Schmeichel to illustrate to some, that he was more than just Peter Schmeichel’s son. A fine goalkeeper with his own style, turns out he had his own identity all along. And, so does Justin Kluivert.
Hopefully Kluivert, son of former Dutch footballer Patrick Kluivert, doesn’t have to endure constant comparisons and associations. It’s inevitable, yes, but his distinct style is paying its own dividends and he is beginning to light up the Eredivisie with Ajax. “Is he as good as his father?” Well, hopefully that is not a narrative that will overtake observing a fine footballer develop in his own right.
A 19-year-old Patrick, was only a year older than what his son is now when he and Holland destroyed the Republic of Ireland’s dreams of qualifying to the 1996 European Championships. In a one-sided affair, he was dominant and scored twice in a one-off play-off in Anfield.
He captured the imagination, much like his son is doing now. But while there are comparisons to be drawn, they are different players.
Strong and prolific, Patrick was primarily a number nine with a capacity to drop into a deeper role if required. But he had the physicality for a full forward, and the finishing. Adroit in possession and a clinical finisher, he was a gifted striker.
Ajax manager, Marcel Keizer, made Justin Kluivert wait to play in the position he wished. Justin, who feels most at home on the left wing, was played on the right-hand side. It wasn’t home for him and he didn’t look comfortable. Ultimately, he was replaced on a regular basis by Brazilian international David Neres, who joined the club from Sao Paulo at the beginning of this year.
Kluivert had no choice but to bide his time. Then at the beginning of November, Ajax teammate and German international Amin Younes, withdrew from Germanys international squad for their friendlies with England and France. And thus, an opportunity presented itself.
Replacing Younes on the left, Kluivert has looked at home. Starting against NAC Breda, a side from the southern point of the Netherlands, struggling in the southern part of the Eredivisie; Kluivert played his part in an 8-0 demolition.
As well as providing an assist, he thwarted the Breda backline throughout and was instrumental in helping to create time and space, playing high up in a front three, alongside Neres and Kasper Dolberg. The triumvirate of attackers running riot.
It was the following week though, that Kluivert came into his own, scoring a hat-trick in a 5-1 win over Roda, another struggling side. Space was aplenty against a Roda side whose league position is reflected in their defensive frailties. And Kluivert exposed their back-line.
Playing a one-two with Hakim Ziyech, he placed the ball comfortably past the Roda goalkeeper for his first. A long-distance effort for his second and a fine, finish for his third, secured his hat-trick. And with it, the father-son comparisons flooded newsfeeds and social media, compounded the following week with another goal in a 3-3 draw against Twente. And yet again on Sunday, he impressed in a 3-0 win over PSV Eindhoven.
Quick and direct, how strong an athlete he will be remains to be seen. He has to work on tracking back more also. He has had a lot of freedom in recent games. There are some tougher games to come over the Christmas period, where he will be called on to do more from the defensive side of things. A part of his game he needs to improve on.
He’s not his father and probably doesn’t want to be. The comparisons will continue. But in time, it's down to him to carve out his own identity and he should be given the time and space to do so.