Moved to Front Page as this rocks
So, Blaise Nkufo (pronounced Kufo, often misspelled N'Kufo) will soon be a Sounder. I'm only just now beginning to follow the Sounders, but as a Dutch native (Feyenoord Rotterdam fan), I have been in a good position to admire FC Twente and Blaise Nkufo.
Twente is a side I've always had a soft spot for, particularly in the years they were coached by Fred Rutten (current coach of PSV Eindhoven). In those years Twente became a kind of Arsenal of the Dutch Eredivisie, playing light-hearted, frivolous and sometimes beautiful football, but falling short of every major prize – as Arsenal has done in the last five years. Under Steve McClaren, Twente switched to a more sober, efficient style of football, and Nkufo's role changed. If you're looking for a reason he had 22 goals in both the '06/'07 and '07/'08 seasons and dropped off afterwards, that's probably a big part of it.
Twente had a long way to come from to become national champions, having been demoted and facing bankruptcy in the 90s well into the 00s. It's a well-managed club, as shown by savvy acquirements like Blaise Nkufo. While I can't pretend to have ever seen him or even heard of him prior to him joining the Twente side, I do recall how much focus was put on him being a club-hopper, not someone who had ever stuck around at one team. It was a widely panned move.
I think you've all heard what happened after from visiting Twente fans. He's the club's top-scorer of all time by a margin of ten goals, and an absolute local legend, to the point of fans having collections to build a statue in his honor, though I'm not sure anything ever came of that. He was captain of his team for his final year for a reason, as a veteran presence and the unique kind of forward that makes the people around him better.
You've all seen the highlight videos and heard the football platitudes such as "imposing presence". And you'll all see him play for his not-exactly-native Switzerland at the World Cup soon enough, in which he holds a key position, as shown by his five goals in the qualifiers, tying the team's other striker, Alexander Frei.
I'm not sure how much we'll see of Switzerland or Nkufo in the World Cup though, so here we are, profiling Blaise Nkufo:
Born: 25 May 1975, Kinshasa, Zaire
Height: 6'2 (or 6'1 depending on who you ask)
Weight: 185 lbs
FC Twente: 223 Apps (114 goals)
Strengths: Physically strong, strong in possession, good in set plays, strong positional player
Weaknesses: Lacks speed, lacks skill on the ball, not a prolific goal scorer
Now when I say not a prolific goal scorer, I'm not being facetious: by Dutch standards Nkufo was never prolific, topping at 22 goals in a league where the top scorer usually goes in the 30-35 range. this is more a sign of how he's used than how he plays, though, particularly in his final year when the main goal scorer was Bryan Ruiz.
But let us be a bit more exact by showing him ingame. Not just highlight reels, which are a bit pointless, but rather his role in goals or non-goals. I'll mark Nkufo out in a lime green undercircle, and the ball (when not clearly visible) as a red dot.
The first game to look at is the week 27 game against PSV Eindhoven (FC Twente in blue, PSV Eindhoven in red-white), just seven matches removed from the championship, PSV was a high-ranking club making a serious challenging bid. Unsurprisingly, they pressed hard in the opening minutes. Several challenges from a large distance were all a part of the one-way traffic of the first half, until Danny Koevermans headed in the first goal of the match for PSV, in the 50th minute.
Twente's first serious challenge comes in the 70th minute. Nkufo does not factor.
In the 73rd minute:
Bryan Ruiz has the ball near midfield. Blaise Nkufo is in motion further inside.
Bryan Ruiz finds himself cut off from the goal, and needs to find an out for the ball.
Between three defenders, Blaise Nkufo puts himself in motion. Ruiz anticipates the motion and sends the ball up the middle.
Blaise Nkufo anticipates the ball, cutting inside with 6 defenders surrounding but not near the ball.
Nkufo doesn't hesitate and rams it home. This goal in particular shows veteran savvy, and the kind of cool head at the ball that comes with experience.
Nkufo's winning "I just scored smile". It's his 112th Eredivisie goal and he still looks that happy. Get used to seeing it. I hope.
In the 78th minute, Ruiz storms across the field and finds Janssen, who swing the ball widely over the goal. Nkufo is nowhere near the action.
PSV puts Twente under heavy pressure for the rest of the match, forcing 3 corners in quick succession, but no more goals are scored. Twente is the moral victor of this 1-1 match, which kept them atop the rankings.
Next up: Week 29 against Sparta Rotterdam (FC Twente in their own red, Sparta in light blue). Sparta is a well-respected, classic old club, but not one who has been very good in recent years. They were relegated this year. I find it hard to compare directly, but I'd guesstimate the average MLS club plays at about the level Sparta did, on its better days. A bit of an obligated number for Twente, but you still have to win matches like these.
It's a slaughterhouse right from the get go.
8th minute: Theo Janssen solo's and misses.
17th minute: Janssen from a free kick, beautiful shot but goalie saves.
17th minute again: Janssen takes a wonky corner, Kenneth Perez tries to shoot it in from distance, Bryan Ruiz attempts to shoot in from the deflection of that shot.
Nkufo is an inch inside off-sides near to the goal (good positioning).
Nkufo body-checks the goalkeeper and gets called for it. Perhaps he would've been allowed that move in the MLS? Your officiating seems much more lenient.
Nkufo complains. Unnecessarily. Bad form for a vet. Don't worry, he's no Ljungberg.
29th: Cheick Tioté conquers the ball from a fumbling defender but fails to do much with it as the defender recovers.
30th: Kenneth Perez shoots in a nice corner.
Off the rebound Nkufo heads it into the scrimmage, to be met by several feet
Somehow this ball does not go in
36th: Perez shoots one in from distance, but goalkeeper has it. Nkufo does a good job engaging a defender.
46th: Ruiz heads in a goal on a Perez assist.
Nkufo sets up the start of this attack. this pass to the right goes to Tioté, who then passes it further right to Perez, who passes a nice curved ball inside for Ruiz to head in. When the goal is scored, Nkufo is positioned beyond Ruiz, to take the ball if the young one misses completely.
47th: Nkufo does a one-two with Ronnie Stam on the right side that intially doesn't result in anything, until Nicky Kuiper is tackled in the box and Twente gets a penalty kick. Ruiz nails it.
50th: Bryan Ruiz scores again. Hat trick within 5 minutes. this is good football. Good combinations, good officiating, good finishing. Good football.
Also bad defending.
Blaise Nkufo is in typical forward position in the lead in to this goal, dragging the defenders. He is slightly offside for a good bit of the play, but otherwise in good position to receive the ball for most of the play. Bryan Ruiz goes for his own glory. Justifiably in this case, but I wouldn't try it every time.
80th: It's been dead for a while now, Twente satisfied with the score, Sparta not able to do much. Nkufo receives the ball deep.
And instantly passes it back for Dario Vujičević.
Vujičević is taken unawares and reacts too slow. Opportunity wasted, perhaps due to bad communication, but solid play from Nkufo.
89th: Ruiz dribbles by four Spartan defenders but fails to finish. Frivolous. Keep an eye on this kid. Game is stopped at 90th minute exactly.
In many ways, I think this second match is a better overall representation of how he played all season: positioned well, playing strong, but generally giving up opportunities to other players. He hasn't really played as the main finisher of the team since McClaren came in. His strength in set plays and solid positional play remain, but I don't know how well he'd respond to being asked to be the main goalgetter.
If you guys would like I could try to dig in some corner situations in which he features throughout the season.