Ever-hopeful Hasselbaink still hankers after precious medal

Veteran striker aims to shake off curse in what may be his Bluebird swansong
Click to follow

The bank vaults may be bursting, the career scoring charts overflowing, but when it comes to the trophy cabinet Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink must peer in and suspect that either Raffles has got to it or his profession of 17 years has not yielded a great deal. Except that everlasting supply of money, fame and diamond earrings, of course.

Yes, Hasselbaink is perhaps the most unlikely sufferer of what is known in football as "Old Mother Hubbarditus". All he has to show for almost two decades of prolific striking is one winning medal. And that came in the Portuguese Cup in 1997. A big fish to land in Lisbon, no question. But everywhere else, a mere sardine.

"Don't talk to me about it," said the Dutchman at Cardiff City's training centre on Thursday. "Some might say it's a curse. I've lost in the semi-finals of the Champions' League, the final of the FA Cup, the semi-finals of the FA Cup, the final of the Spanish Cup, the final of the Uefa Cup, the semi-finals of the World Cup against Brazil, and even that third- and fourth-place play-off. But does it bother me? No, because I can win this FA Cup final. That would mean everything."

If Cardiff are to become the first team from outside the top division to lift club football's most famous piece of silverware in 28 years, it could even mean another year's (highly) gainful employment for Hasselbaink. At 36, he could well feel too long in the tooth to be playing for his supper, but if the Welsh newspapers are to be believed that is exactly what he will be doing at Wembley on Saturday.

The word is that Dave Jones will not be taking up the option of a year's extension on Hasselbaink's contract in the summer. Cue "Jimmy's swansong" headlines, and the Cardiff manager has neither confirmed nor, more ominously, denied the reports. Instead, in typically obstinate fashion, Jones has just moaned about the timing of the speculation. In contrast, Hasselbaink is keen to make his feelings known.

"I want to carry on next year," he said, explaining why he is an even better proposition now than when Cardiff signed him. "I feel a lot different to a season ago, a lot fitter. Mainly because I didn't play many games last season. You know, I still definitely thought I had a future in the game after Charlton. I had no doubt about that. It's just how you approach it and yes, obviously, you know you're getting a day older and you have to do certain things a little bit different. But that's one of those things.

"I still believe I have plenty to offer and I've enjoyed this year. Every day I've been happy coming in and playing and mixing with the rest of the lads."

If only the lads could say the same. Hasselbaink's training-ground squabbles have already become a part of Bluebird folklore, as Jones wryly pointed out. "Look, Jimmy is Jimmy," he said. "He's brought an experience and a professionalism to our training ground that only senior players can bring. Sure he'll have a go at people and they'll have a go back. He has a go at everyone, so no one can take it personal.

"That makes the camp strong because the players realise he just wants a better standard. It's an acceptance of making, say, that pass that bit better the next time. Only senior guys can bring that. You have to have done things to command that respect."

Good job they appear to be in the dark about his paltry medal haul, then. Still, Hasselbaink is confident that one of the game's stranger anomalies is about to be redressed. He points to Portsmouth's poor form, to their far from convincing labours against the other Championship teams they have faced in their Cup run, and to Cardiff's well-evidenced tendency to play better the better the opposition. But more than anything he seems to believe simply because he always has believed in his sport's power to rage against the odds. Ever since he threw away his knife, left his council-block gang and vowed to make his mark the legal way.

"No, I don't think Wembley will be my farewell appearance as in 'bye-bye'," he said. "But I do appreciate that games like this don't come along every often. I certainly didn't expect this to be happening at this stage of my career. You do suspect occasions like this are behind you. But that's why we all love football: the unexpected can happen. It's a beautiful thing."

Comments