Ajax reached the pinnacle of the European game in 1995, Louis van Gaal’s exciting young side defeating Juventus in the final 1-0 thanks to a Patrick Kluivert goal. Dutch football has sank since then – teams simply haven’t been able to hold onto their players since the Bosman ruling of that year.
Instead the Eredivisie has become a breeding ground for players, particularly strikers. Young forwards tend to flourish there, inevitably leading to a larger club picking them up; the Eredivisie’s top scorers have left a legacy all over Europe.
Ronaldo (PSV 1995)
Undoubtedly the greatest foreign striker to have passed through Dutch football, Ronaldo was the top scorer of the Eredivisie in 1995. Persuaded to join PSV by compatriot Romario (who also kickstarted his European career at the club, finishing as the Eredivisie’s top scorer in 89,90, and 91), Ronaldo hit a staggering 30 goals in 33 games at just 19-years-old.
A knee injury would hurt his second year, limiting him to ‘just’ 12 in 13, before a world-record move to Barcelona happened in 1996. Ronaldo would go onto incredible levels of success. Twice winner of the Ballon d’Or, he would be the best player at the 2002 World Cup, and enjoyed a career at Internazionale, Real Madrid, AC Milan, and Corinthians following Barcelona. Widely regarded as one of the greatest strikers of all-time (if not the greatest).
Luc Nillis (PSV 1996,1997)
Luc Nillis joined PSV at the same time as Ronaldo, and the two of them formed a fruitful partnership. After Ronaldo dominated the goalscoring charts in their first season together (although Nillis did win the Dutch footballer of the year award in 1995), his injury in the second opened the door for Nillis, whose 21 goals saw him top the list for strikers in 1996.
He continued his form after Ronaldo left, matching his tally in 1997 and again finishing as top scorer. Nillis stayed at PSV until 2000 (forming another great partnership with a man soon to appear on this list), before moving to Aston Villa. Tragically, Nillis only managed three games in England before a horrific leg break ended his career.
Nikos Machlas (Vitesse 1998)
The Greek signed for Vitesse Arnhem in 1996, but his first season in the Netherlands finished with eight goals in 29 games. His second season came out of seemingly nowhere, however, as Machlas hit a stunning 34 goals in 32 games, finishing not only as top scorer, but winning the European Golden Boot along with it.
Machlas signed for Ajax in 1999 for a club-record fee, but his time there was frustrating. Mido and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were preferred as strikers, and by 2002 he was deemed surplus to requirements. A poor loan spell at Sevilla followed, before moving back to Greece where he enjoyed a decent time. He finished his career in Cyprus with APOEL, winning the Championship.
Ruud van Nistelrooy (PSV 1999, 2000)
The top scorer spot had been occupied by Vitesse for one year, but it was firmly back at PSV in 1999. van Nistelrooy joined the club in 1998 from Heerenveen, and immediately became one of the most prolific forwards in Europe. 60 goals followed in his first two seasons at the club, topping the charts both times with 31 and 29 goals respectively. This form attracted the attention of Manchester United, who effectively signed the player in 2000.
However, a knee injury prevented the deal going through. Sir Alex Ferguson assured the player that they would sign him again the following summer, and was true to his word. The Dutchman spent five years at United, scoring 150 goals and winning the Premier League.
He then moved on to Real Madrid, again proving to be a born goalscorer as he hit 41 goals in the first two seasons to win La Liga twice. Injury crippled his last two seasons in Madrid, and two quiet seasons followed at Hamburg and Malaga before van Nistelrooy retired in 2012.
Mateja Kežman (PSV 2001, 2003, 2004)
Kezman had proven himself to be a solid goalscorer in his native Serbia before joining PSV in 2000. 24 goals in his first season crowned him top scorer, but he took a backseat to Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink in his season, managing just 15. But then the Serb exploded, scoring 35 goals in 33 games in 2003 and another 31 in 29 the year after.
His incredible record prompted Chelsea to want him for Jose Mourinho’s first season. He couldn’t recreate the magic outside of the Netherlands, however, and Kezman arguably became the first cautionary tale for clubs looking at striking talent in the Eredivisie. He left London after one year, nomadically spending time in Spain, Turkey, France, Russia, China, and Bulgaria before retiring in 2012.
Pierre van Hooijdonk (Feyenoord 2002)
van Hooijdonk arrives on this list as an anomaly – he was over 30 years old when he finished as top scorer in 2002. This was the first time since Ruud Geels in 1981, and it meant that van Hooijdonk was one of the few who wasn’t courted by Europe’s top clubs. Feyenoord won the UEFA Cup that year, also, and van Hooijdonk left in 2003 for Fenerbache where he won the SuperLig twice. He’d eventually go back to Feyenoord, retiring there in 2007.
Dirk Kujt (Feyenoord 2005)
Kuyt had earned a reputation for himself at Utrecht before joining Feyenoord, but he set the league alight in his first spell in Rotterdam. Kuyt scored 71 goals in three seasons, finishing as top scorer in 2005 with 29 goals. He couldn’t win an elusive Eredivisie title, however, and moved to Liverpool in 2006.
His time at Anfield saw him converted into a right winger after Fernando Torres arrived, but his workrate saw him become a fixture in the side, as well as a club hero. He somewhat unfortunately left with only a League Cup winner’s medal, before joining Fenerbache in 2012. A league title followed, but Kuyt had unfinished business.
He moved back to Feyenoord in 2015, declaring that he would deliver their first Eredivisie title since 1999. Kuyt scored 19 goals in his first season back as Feyenoord came third, but scored 12 in his second. The last three of those came in his final game for the club, and the hattrick clinched the Championship that Kuyt has promised. He lifted the 2017 Eredivisie as captain, retiring a champion.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Heerenveen/Ajax 2006, Ajax 2008)
Huntelaar is unique on the list, with his top scorer crown in 2006 coming from spells at two clubs. The 22-year-old had scored 17 goals for Heerenveen half way through the 05/06 season, and Ajax paid €9 million to sign the boyhood fan. Huntelaar repaid them with 16 goals in 16 games over the second half of the season, finishing as overall top scorer with 33.
He stayed at Ajax for 3 years, again finishing as top scorer in 2008 (again with 33 goals), before he was, again, off in January. Real Madrid paid €20 million to bring the Dutchman to Spain, but he couldn’t keep up his prolific form. Huntelaar left after one year for Milan, but suffered the same fate. By 2010 he was signing for Schalke 04. His time in the Bundesliga was decent, with 82 goals in 175 games. 2012 was his standout season though, finishing as Bundesliga top scorer with 29 goals. He left Schalke in 2017, and will play the 2017/2018 season back at Ajax.
Afonso Alves (Heerenveen 2007)
The poster boy for being cautious. Alves scored with ease in his only full season in Dutch football – 34 goals in 31 games – and then scored 11 in 8 over the first half of the 07/08 season. That led to Middlesbrough paying €20 million to take the Brazilian to Teeside, but things did not work out. 3 goals in his first 10 games didn’t look too hot, but he ended the 07/08 season with a hattrick against Manchester City.
The following year was a disaster though. The team were relegated, and the previously prolific Alves scored just 4 times in 31 games. He didn’t stick around, and spent the next few years playing exclusively for clubs in Qatar. He retired at 32.
Mounir El Hamdaoui (AZ 2009)
El Hamdaoui joined AZ in 2007, and his 24 goals in 2009 saw him not only as top scorer, but delivered AZ’s first Eredivisie title since 1981. Another 20 followed the year after, and 2010 saw the Morrocan move to Ajax. That first season finished with El Hamdaoui scoring 13 goals in 26 games, but he had fallen out with manager Frank de Boer.
The spat grew to such an extent that the player wasn’t used at all in the 11/12 season. Subsequent spells at Fiorentina (twice), Malaga, AZ (again), Umm-Salal (Qatar), and Al-Taawon (Saudi Arabia) proved nowhere near as successful as his original time at AZ. He became a free agent in January 2017.
Luis Suarez (Ajax 2010)
Joining Ajax in 2007 from Gronigen, Suarez was instantly a top forward in Amsterdam. In 2010, however, he hit an incredible 35 goals in 33 games (49 in 48 in all competitions). The season, along with his performances at that years World Cup, put him on the radar of everybody.
He signed for Liverpool in January 2011, halfway through the season and while suspended for his first biting incident (because there are three. Three biting incidents). He started quite slowly at Liverpool in terms of goals, although his performances were of a high standard. In 2013 he began to find his stride, however, and he scored 23 goals. 13/14 was his year though. Suarez scored 31 league goals despite being suspended for the start of the season (yes, biting), in what was one of the finest seasons in Premier League history.
He promptly moved to Barcelona in 2014 (although he had to wait for his debut. He was suspended. For biting) and won everything in his first season. In 2016 he became the first player since 2009 not called either Lionel or Cristiano to win the top scorer trophy in La Liga. He’s currently regarded as one of the greatest players in the world.
Björn Vleminckx (NEC 2011)
Vleminckx scored 23 goals as NEC finished 11th. His career is quite a contrast to the previous top scorer, joining Club Brugge in Belgium the following year. His two years there didn’t work out, and three years in Turkey also failed to recreate his 2011 season. He moved to Antwerp in 2016.
Bas Dost (Heerenveen 2012)
Dost’s Heerenveen career started quite slowly, but in 2012 he smashed 32 goals in 34 games. He was immediately picked up by Wolfsburg in Germany, but he never reached the same heights. Dost did, however, score 16 in 21 as a Kevin de Bruyne-inspired Wolfsburg finished 2nd in 2015. A poor season followed, however, and he joined Sporting Club in Portugal for the 16/17 season. There the Dutchman found his touch once again, and his first season at Sporting ended with an incredible 34 goals in 31 games.
Wilfried Bony (Vitesse 2013)
Bony was a slow burner in the Netherlands like many others, and it took until his third season at Vitesse to come alive. 31 goals in 30 games grabbed the attention of Europe. Swansea City broke their transfer record and paid £12m for Bony, and the Ivorian was a success. 17 in 34 Premier League games, followed by nine in 20 over the first half of the following season, convinced Manchester City to pay £25m for Bony.
His career immediately stalled as he was too far down the pecking order at City. four goals in his only full season so far meant that he was loaned out to Stoke City for the 16/17 season. He played just ten games, scoring twice.
Alfreð Finnbogason (Heerenveen 2014)
Finnbogason was yet another striker who found success at Heerenveen. His 29 goals in 2014 crowned him top scorer, following on from his 24 goals the previous year. Real Socieded paid €7.5 million for his services, but 2 goals in 23 games saw him loaned out to Olympiacos for the 2015/16 season.
He didn’t fare much better, not lasting the season and scoring just once. He finished the season at Augsberg in Germany, where he once again looked convincing, joining them permanently in 2016.
Memphis Depay (PSV 2015)
Memphis Depay was one of the most sought after talents in Europe after his 22 goals in 2015. He eventually joined Manchester United for £25 million, being handed the iconic number 7 shirt. 2 goals in 29 games followed, and Depay rarely looked like making it at United. He barely featured over the first half of the 16/17 season, joining Lyon for £16 million just 18 months after landing in Manchester.
Vincent Janssen (AZ 2016)
27 goals in his debut season at AZ immediately caught the attention of Tottenham Hotspur. Janssen played out the season as deputy to Harry Kane, but his goal scoring abilities seemed to completely fade away – it took him until March to score from open play.