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Marco van Basten
Born: 31 October 1964, Utrecht, Holland

International Caps 58
International Goals 24
Teams Ajax, AC Milan
Team Honours European Championship: 1988
European Cup: 1989, 90, 94
Cup Winners Cup: 1987
World Club Championships: 1989, 90
European Super Cup: 1989, 90, 94
Dutch Championship: 1982, 83, 85.
Dutch Cup: 1983, 86, 87.
Italian Championship: 1988, 92, 93, 94.
Individual Honours FIFA World Player of the Year: 1992
World Footballer of the Year: 1988, 92
European Footballer of the Year: 1988, 89, 92
Marco van Basten was the greatest goalscorer of his generation. It wasn't just that he scored lots of goals, nor that many of them were outstanding.

No, what made him the most feared striker in world soccer was a rare ability to perform when it was most needed. Pressure seemed nothing to him. It brought out his best.

It was van Basten who scored one of the best goals seen in international competition. And the fact that it won the only football honour ever achieved by Holland is the true measure of his ability.

To understand the significance of that goal in the European Championship Final of 1988, you have to go back to the Dutch side of the 1970s - the masters of "Total Football". That team, led by Johan Cruyff, captivated everyone who saw them. It was football as artistry. They were the best in the world - and they won nothing. Just two losing World Cup Finals to show for their supreme talent.

After Cruyff, Holland fell apart, even failing to qualify for the World Cup in 1982 and 1986. So when the 23-year-old van Basten and the new generation of Dutch players, including Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard, competed in the European Championships, it was against a background of thwarted ambitions and desperate disappointments.

Van Basten was only third-choice striker in the squad, but he scored five goals in the tournament and returned home as his country's greatest hero.

First he hit a hat-trick to see off England, then he grabbed a last-gasp winner two minutes from time to overcome hosts West Germany in the semi-finals.

As the Dutch prepared to meet the Soviet Union in the final in Munich's Olympic Stadium, the expectation that a nation's dream was about to be fulfilled was immense. To play under that burden is an enormous strain. But no one, clearly, told van Basten.

Holland were leading 1-0 through Gullit when, from a seemingly impossible angle, van Basten struck a long, looping volley into the Soviet net. It was a classic strike, and it ensured that first and only Dutch international triumph.

It may well have been an omen that van Basten was born on Halloween in 1964. For the boy from Utrecht grew up to struck terror into the heart of international defences. Not for nothing did he become known as "Marco Goalo".

The van Basten story, like that of so many of his country's great stars, began at Ajax who had spotted him playing with Elinkwijk. When he joined Ajax, as an 18-year-old, this famous club were struggling to regain the glory days of the Seventies when Cruyff set the standard with three successive European Cup wins.

He made his international debut in the 1983 World Youth Cup, but his instinctive brilliance was undermined by a vulnerability to injury that was to plague him and ultimately ruin his career.

By 1986 he was the top marksman in Europe, winning the European Golden Boot award. With van Basten leading their attack, Ajax lifted two Dutch Championships, two Dutch Cups and the European Cup Winners' Cup.

That Cup Winners' Cup victory, against Dynamo Dresden, was van Basten's last game for Ajax. He had scored 128 league goals in just 143 games at an unprecedented strike rate.

Those goals, however, came at a heavy price. In that triumphant Cup Winners' Cup year, he injured an ankle which required surgery. But the operation was put off because Ajax decided they could not spare him for those vital European games.

The following season he joined AC Milan who were re-emerging from bankruptcy. Milan, who had won the European Cup in 1963 and 1969, had been rescued from liquidation in 1986 by the media magnate and future Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Milan had been founder members of the Italian Championship in 1898, but now they were living in the shadow of deadly rivals Internazionale with whom they shared the San Siro stadium.

Berlusconi invested 20 million in the club, and some of that money was spent on van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard. He also brought in leading coach Arrigo Sacchi, who was later in charge of the Italian national team during Euro 96.

Results came quickly. Milan won Serie A for the first time in nine years. They did it, however, without much help from van Basten. The ankle injury flared up again and he played only 11 games.

It was feared, at first, that he might miss the European Championships, but not only was he the tournament's leading scorer, he was voted World Footballer of the Year, just ahead of Gullit and Rijkaard - an unprecedented sweep of the honours by players from the same club and country.

He was already European Footballer of the Year, an award he was to win three times - (1988, 1989 and 1992) - to equal the record of Cruyff and France's Michel Platini.

European Cup glory beckoned for van Basten in 1989, Milan destroying Romanian Champions Steaua Bucharest 4-0 in the final in Barcelona. Van Basten got two of the goals, as did Gullit.

They were to retain their trophy 12 months later with a 1-0 defeat of Benfica in the final, this time in Vienna.

Disappointments lay in wait, however. Holland had a poor World Cup in Italia 90. They failed to win any of their games, drawing all their matches in the group stage before losing 2-1 to Germany in the second round.

Then van Basten had a public falling out with Milan coach Sacchi and was banned by UEFA for four games after violently elbowing an opponent in a European Cup game.

His form suffered that 1990-91 season and he scored only 11 goals in 33 games. The following year, however, he was back on the goal standard with 25 in 31 games.

The European Championships followed in Sweden and Holland reached the semi-finals where they were beaten by Denmark. In a rare lapse, van Basten missed a penalty in that match, but it did not prevent him being named World Footballer of the Year for a second time.

That autumn, at Milan, van Basten played some of the best football of his life. He scored 13 goals in 15 games against the tightest defences in club football. It was a remarkable run, but van Basten then had to endure two more operations on his damaged ankle. The condition of his injury was becoming chronic.

His last competitive game was Milan's 1-0 defeat by Olympique Marseilles in the 1993 European Cup Final - a match which left a bitter taste. Marseilles, owned by Bernard Tapie, were later discovered to have paid three Valenciennes players to take it easy in a French League game shortly before the European Final. They were stripped of their French title and their European Cup win.

Van Basten spent two years trying to overcome his injuries but in the end he had to face the inevitable, announcing his retirement in August 1995. He had scored 90 goals in 147 games for Milan, twice being the leading marksman in Serie A, and had set a European Cup record of 18 goals in 23 matches for the club.

He won the last of his 58 international caps in October 1992 in a World Cup qualifier against Poland. He had scored 24 times for Holland.

He had played for 10 glorious seasons, but the punishment he received from defenders had brought a gifted career to a premature end.

Van Basten had had it all. He was graceful, yet powerful, two-footed with tremendous close control, and was quick on the turn and supreme in the air.

"Marco always played football like a ballerina, but his ankle eventually couldn't take the strain," said Rene Marti, one of the doctors who treated him.

Unsurprisingly, van Basten has led calls to clean up the game, advancing the view that football should adopt the basketball rule of personal fouls which, after a player has committed five, means he is substituted, even if none of those fouls was bad enough to earn a caution.

"I really believe that only red and yellow cards are not enough anymore," he said. "Defenders have become so subtle nowadays, that a lot of fouls are disguised."

However, he does not see himself as merely the victim of cynical hard men. "The most frustrating thing for me," he said, "is not the way I hurt my ankle, but the way I have been treated by some doctors. The person who damaged my ankle most was not a player but a surgeon."

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