For several of the world’s greatest players subtlety is king. For Jerrel ‘Jimmy’ Floyd Hasselbaink it was an unnecessary complication.
After all, the Dutchman could strike a ball with such ferocity that scientists attempted to use his right foot to smash particles together before building the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Well maybe not. But you get the drift
Hasselbaink was often no-frills. If he had an opportunity to unleash, whether he be ten yards out or 30, he would take it. And his innate ability to hit the ball so cleanly and accurately meant he scored goal after goal.
Yet Hasselbaink’s football career almost ended before it began. By his own admission the game saved him from a completely different life.
“You should have seen me at 16,” he explained in an interview with The Guardian in 2005. “One of those bad boys, running with a gang, trying to look cool and act hard.”
Hasselbaink was brought up in Zaandam, near Amsterdam. It was a tough place to live. Drugs were rife, as was crime.
“Sometimes I’d be playing football at the back with my mates and we’d see a body falling,” he continued. “We saw people kill themselves two or three times and we weren’t surprised. There were a lot of broken people, a lot of bad things. I carried a knife myself but I never used it because, really, it was just to look cool.”
The turning point for Hasselbaink came when he spent three months in a detention centre after being caught with stolen goods at his home.
“I pretended it was a big joke but it was like jail,” he said. “It hit me when I walked into this scary room I had to share with three other guys – and one was crazy.
“He didn’t get violent but you had to watch him carefully. He was Moroccan and you never knew what he was shouting because he couldn’t speak Dutch. Maybe it was the big shock I needed.”
After leaving Het Poortje the young striker eventually joined Dutch second-tier side SC Telster. Moves to AZ Alkmaar, Campomaiorense and Boavista followed and it was his record with the latter – he struck 27 goals in the 1996/97 season – which secured a £2million move to Leeds United.
“I had two offers from other clubs in Portugal and one from Italy. That was Napoli but they’re not the same club as from the 1980s,” Hasselbaink admitted during his first season with the Yorkshire club. “So my other option was Werder Breman. It was between them and Leeds. I chose Leeds.”
A goal on his debut against Arsenal immediately endeared Hasselbaink to the Whites faithful, but he struggled during his first few months in England.
With Tony Yeboah ostracised by George Graham and Thomas Brolin not the player he was at Parma, the goal burden fell firmly on the Dutch star’s fairly inexperienced shoulders.
By Christmas, he’d only scored five times in the Premiership. Yet in the second half of the campaign he clicked into gear and ended with 26 goals in all competitions.
Graham was hard on Hasselbaink during that first season at Elland Road. But the striker has since admitted it was what he needed to toughen him up and ensure his personal standards didn’t drop.
Leeds and Graham would part company two months into the 1998/99 campaign. David O’Leary took charge and Hasselbaink hit 18 goals in the league. It meant he shared the Golden Boot with Michael Owen and Dwight Yorke and helped the Whites reach the UEFA Cup.
Talks were held at the end of that season to extend Hasselbaink’s contract, which had two years to run. But negotiations turned sour.
O’Leary told the BBC: “What he is looking for I don’t think any club in the country could afford and I don’t think there is anyone on that kind of money over here (in England).”
Reports claimed Hasselbaink wanted a deal in excess of £30,000-a-week. Leeds supposedly offered £25,000, which would’ve made the striker the best-paid player in the club’s history.
“It was never about money as many people believe,” his agent, Humphrey Nijman, responded after Hasselbaink completed a £10million move to Atlético Madrid.
“Jimmy has been very hurt by the accusations he is greedy. He needs emotional satisfaction. But he loves the fans and he loves Leeds. He would have loved to have stayed at the club.”
His one season in the Spanish capital was curious. He struck 33 goals in all competitions, helped the club defeat Real Madrid at the Bernabéu for the first time in nine years and spearheaded their run to the Copa del Rey final, where they were beaten 2-1 by Espanyol. But in La Liga Atleti were dreadful and their campaign ended in relegation.
That triggered a release clause in Hasselbaink’s contract and in the summer of 2000 he returned to England and joined Chelsea for a then club-record fee of £15million.
“It’s a very big move and I feel happy with it,” he said. “When I heard Chelsea were interested I was very pleased and hoped the deal would go through.
“I enjoyed my time in English football and I am happy to be back at a great club like Chelsea, who are very ambitious.”
Until he arrived at Stamford Bridge Hasselbaink’s career had been nomadic. He’d never spent more than two seasons at a club in his professional career. Yet the Blues and the striker were the perfect fit.
He immediately settled in west London and the Blues fans adored the striker. His first season – during which Gianluca Vialli was sacked and replaced by Claudio Ranieri, his former Atlético coach – resulted in 26 goals.
His second was even more prolific. And that was largely down to being paired alongside Eiður Guðjohnsen.
In truth, you could dedicate an entire article to the duo. They dovetailed perfectly, their attributes bringing the best out of the other. The Icelander was calculated and subtle. Hasselbaink was blood and thunder.
“We clicked off the field very quickly, and I think that helped a lot,” Guðjohnsen told FourFourTwo. “We were very different in how we played but very alike in how we thought about the game.
“Jimmy was so powerful, while I was about picking a position and finding the right pass so he could take care of the rest. I’d usually drop off him and go deep, but we could alternate. It was such an enjoyable time.”
Their bond transcended the pitch. The two were good friends, even spending Christmas together with their families. They also enjoyed a trip to the casino…
“One night I lost £40,000,” Hasselbaink admitted. “I knew then I had to sort out my personal life to walk away from the casino. Maybe my bank account also told me something because it was getting less and less.”
Hasselbaink ended the 2001/02 season with 29 goals in all competitions. Guðjohnsen struck 23.
Fifteen would follow in 2002/03 but the summer after that campaign Chelsea were transformed. Roman Abramovich bought the club and instantly pumped money into the transfer budget.
Hernán Crespo and Adrian Mutu were signed and Hasselbaink lost his place in the starting XI. But by the end of the campaign, he had once again established himself as a starter. His 18 goals in all competitions meant he was the Blues’ top scorer.
In the summer of 2004 came the second seismic event in Chelsea’s recent history. The arrival of José Mourinho. Hasselbaink, who had one year remaining on his contract, was allowed to walk away from the club for nothing.
“I think he had a perception of me that I was a little bit difficult or I would not be happy sitting on the bench,” Hasselbaink said. “Months after, I spoke to him and he said he should have kept me, even just for another year. But that’s how it goes.”
At 33, the striker had plenty still to give at the highest level. Yet it was something of a surprise when he signed for Steve McLaren’s Middlesbrough.
He was joined by Mark Viduka, signed from Leeds, and the duo formed an effective front two. Much like his partnership with Guðjohnsen, the Australian was the ideal foil. His guile the perfect accompaniment for the Dutchman’s power.
His first season at the Riverside resulted in 13 Premier League goals. His replacement at Stamford Bridge, a certain Didier Drogba, had netted only ten.
“What do I say? Drogba cost £24million and in the first year he didn’t score more than I did – and I was playing at Middlesbrough,” Hasselbaink teased the following season.
His second campaign in the North East resulted in 18 goals. He helped Boro reach the UEFA Cup final, but they were beaten 4-0 by Spanish side Sevilla. It proved his final game for the Teesiders.
“We needed everybody to be 100 per cent fit and then we might have had a chance. It was one game too much but what a hell of a run. We did magnificently.”
He retired at the age of 36 having struck 129 goals in 288 Premier League games. He’d played in two FA Cup finals and a UEFA Cup final. He’d been capped 23 times by his country and scored nine times. And he’d earned the adoration from countless fans in several countries.
Football may have saved Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink but he certainly repaid that debt. And then some.