Kluivert and Newcastle can learn from Dutch

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The Independent Online

Patrick Kluivert returns to his homeland tonight facing an uncertain reception from both his countrymen and the travelling support. A capricious talent whose arrival on Tyneside owed more to the boardroom than the dug-out, the Dutch striker has become a symbol of Newcastle United's persistent underachievement.

Patrick Kluivert returns to his homeland tonight facing an uncertain reception from both his countrymen and the travelling support. A capricious talent whose arrival on Tyneside owed more to the boardroom than the dug-out, the Dutch striker has become a symbol of Newcastle United's persistent underachievement.

Injuries have not helped his cause but neither has an apparently indolent attitude, as illustrated when he arrived at Newcastle Airport yesterday long after his team-mates and 20 minutes after the deadline imposed by the club's manager, Graeme Souness. There are, therefore, perhaps few more appropriate places for Kluivert to show he is the genuine article, not a fading show-pony, than Heerenveen's Abe Lenstra stadium. Named after the first Dutch star, one who played in the amateur age, it is home to a club whose ethos is the antithesis of Newcastle United's.

The entire population of this small Dutch town would fit into St James' Park almost twice over yet Heerenveen have featured in the Champions' League and last season finished fourth in the Eredivisie (the Netherlands' top division). The twice-capped former PSV striker Arnold Bruggink may be their biggest "name", but they should not be underestimated. Unlike Newcastle Heerenveen actually are united. Just as Newcastle regard themselves as the heart of the Geordie nation Heerenveen represent Friesland, a region with its own language and anthem (banned by Uefa). But while Newcastle's board notoriously takes its supporters for granted Heerenveen cultivate theirs.

Yesterday they launched a new magazine, a joint venture between the club and supporters. Editor Sietze Looijenga, an unpaid volunteer, said: "The management here always remember where they came from. The president [Riemer van der Velde] doesn't take money from the club but spends time on it."

An example of the way in which the club integrates itself into the community is the club rule that every player must live within 30 kilometres of the ground. "It is very important they meet the supporters and know who they are playing for," said Yme Kuiper, a club director. "The fans are very much part of the club. They are proud to see the colours on our shirts." Heerenveen's shirts represent the Friesland flag (the red dots are water lilies, not hearts).

Being nice to the community can only get a club so far. The other key factor, explains the manager Gertjan Verbeek, is stability. "I played here for 12 years, coached for eight, went away to manage in the second division and returned as manager last year," Verbeek said.

"In all that time the president was the same man. The people who run this club have vision. They know what they want and work very hard. Twenty years ago we played in front of 1,000 people in an old stadium. Tonight we will have 20,000 in a new one. That is a big compliment to everyone involved. It is a big family here."

In an attempt to create some of that spirit at Newcastle Souness took his squad to Dubai last week. He said: "My experience of football is that if you've got a group of 22 people you're not all going to love each other, but it's really important that when you go out across that white line you're all pulling in the same direction. I think the time away has really helped that. We were a very happy group."

Souness needs unity because after a bright start under him the team have slumped, winning seven and losing eight of the last 22 matches.

"This is a big club with large expectations and criticism is inevitable if you're not doing well," he said. "But it's not new to me. I've lived with it before and I'd much rather them criticise me than my players.

"We've lost one game in eight, against Arsenal. I've signed players who I think will improve us and I'd like to be judged at the end of next season but I know how the game works. I can understand the fans' frustrations."

Already without the cup-tied Jean-Alain Boumsong, Souness has lost Nicky Butt to an ankle injury and and Keiron Dyer to a flu bug which might yet claim Jermaine Jenas, who could only manage 20 minutes of training yesterday. Darren Ambrose and James Milner stand by.

Verbeek added: "I hope we can make a match of it. They are favourites as they have the better individuals and a lot more money. But they have new players and difficulty in becoming a team so we have a chance."

As for the prodigal son, Verbeek was dismissive. "If it is coming back to Holland which is motivating Kluivert he is not a good player. He has to be always motivated, not just because he is playing in Holland."

Heerenveen (probable, 4-3-3): Vandenbussche; Bakkati, Hansson, Breuer, Rzasa; Vayrynen, Radomski, Hestad; Yildirim, Huntelaar, Bruggink.

Newcastle United (probable, 4-4-2): Given; Carr, O'Brien, Bramble, Babayaro; Bowyer, Jenas, Faye, Robert; Kluivert, Shearer.

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