JFH: The iron-arsed hitman with a foot like a traction engine

Date published: Sunday 26th September 2021 8:45 - John Nicholson

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink Chelsea

Johnny Nic pays tribute to Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, the promiscuous net-buster who could tw*t a ball like few others…

 

Who’s this then?
Jerrel Floyd Hasselbaink is now 49 years old and is currently the manager of Burton Albion, having had an 18-year playing career as a striker, turning out for 10 different clubs playing 591 games and netting an impressive 249 times for club and nine for country.

He began in 1990 at Telstar in the Dutch league system but soon moved on to AZ Alkmaar for three seasons. However, he wasn’t massively successful and was let go after five goals in 42 games. He played amateur football for a while before finding a gig in Portugal at Campomaiorense where he scored 12 in 34, which got him a move to Boavista. It was here, now aged 24, that his career really took off as he netted 24 times in 38 games, 20 in 29 league games. It was also here that he won the only trophy of his career when they won the Taça de Portuga.

This got him noticed by Leeds United who were managed by George Graham at the time. He was signed for £2million and across the next two campaigns he scored 42 times in 87 games, sharing the golden boot in his second season. Although he had two years to run on his contract, he couldn’t agree a new deal with the club. Leeds said he wanted far too much money, so he was sold to Atletico Madrid for £10 million.

Atletico was to be his most prolific season scoring a mighty 33 in 43 matches but the club was relegated regardless (a strange thought now) and that triggered a clause in his contract allowing him to leave, destination: Chelsea, and for a joint UK record £15million, the most Chelsea had ever paid for a player. Again, given they’ve just spent almost £100million, it does seem amazing that £15million was as much as they’d paid 21 years ago.

He became a fixture in the side across four seasons never playing less than 41 games. He notched up 87 strikes in 177 and was one of the most feared strikers in the league. In 2001-02 he scored 29 in total, his best in England. But after four years he left just as Roman’s money poured like liquid gold all over the club.

This was understandable though, because the glamour and sheer brilliance of Middlesbrough FC was too much to resist, and off he went to Teesside on a free transfer. In his second and final season he played a crucial part in the most glorious run to the UEFA Cup final, achieved despite losing one leg of every knockout tie, overcoming Roma, Basel and Steaua Bucharest along the way, via two of the greatest comebacks ever seen in European football, scoring four against the Swiss and Dracula’s Boys at home, to win.

For his goal, the third in the quarter-final second leg, scored in Middlesbrough, he will forever be a Teeside legend.

The last game he played for Boro was the 4-0 defeat to Sevilla in the UEFA Cup final. From there he went to Charlton, but that was a let down after the thrill of playing for Middlesbrough, so after four goals in 29 games he finished his career playing for Cardiff trying to relive the glorious days on Teesside. The 2007-08 campaign was his last season, he scored nine goals in Wales, played 44 times, lost the FA Cup final and then hung up his boots.

Despite being a reliable goal scorer, he only played 23 games for the Netherlands 1998-2002, scoring nine times.

But that is only half the JFH story because he’s been gigging in the managerial game for eight years now with variable success. Royal Antwerp, Burton Albion, QPR. Northampton and Burton again have all been under his guidance since 2013. A 61.1%-win ratio at Burton in his first spell with them won the league. But his move to QPR and then Northampton saw him down in the boondocks with 27% and 23% win ratios.

Things started well in his second spell at Burton in 2021 and he lost only six games from the second week in January to the end of the season winning 13 and drawing five. And he began this season by winning the first three, but they’re now five without a win and sitting mid-table.

 


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Why the love?
First things first. He could really bloody belt a ball. Full leather thrashing. He could hit a free-kick from 35 yards and take the net off and didn’t even need much backlift to do it. It’s the thing that stands out about him, even 14 years after his retirement. His ease, his nonchalance, and his ability to absolutely batter the ball.

Every fan loves a goalscorer. He was always a direct player who sometimes made football look very easy. His strike for Middlesbrough in that famous UEFA Cup quarter-final against Basel was typical. It looks like he didn’t even mean it, so causal and almost insouciant was it. He walks away without so much a smile on his face, like it hadn’t even happened.

Football looked easy for JFH. You never had the impression of him sweating bullets trying to score goals. It all came quite naturally. His rocket-fuelled shot was powered by impressively large buttocks. Always one of those players about whom you could say he filled his shorts, this gave him a solidity and resilience as a striker. Basically, he was so heavily weighed down by the iron arse, that you couldn’t knock him off the ball.

He was also well into his 20s before he really hit his stride. This wasn’t a player who had been marked out for greatness from an early age, so there was no sense of entitlement or expectation about him. He was just a pure striker who wasn’t in the side for any other reason. Maybe in that sense he was one of the last of a dying breed. Assists weren’t his thing really, battering the ball into the goal as hard as possible very much was. That explains the high regard he’s held in by the fans of all the clubs he played for.

And here’s another thing; he was a promiscuous player, turning out for many clubs and I think fans understood that, so there was no sense of him betraying anyone when he moved on, no rejection of the former hero. We were always happy to see him return.

When he was at Middlesbrough we were just glad to have him along with Mark Viduka, the Yak and others. We knew he was there for a big wage packet and we were happy for him to hang around as long as he fancied it. That the club was so successful in Europe – for actually two seasons – reaching the last 16 in his first, the final in his second, was no coincidence.

That he’s chosen to make his managerial career in the UK so far has been an interesting story to follow. The fact he had no sense of the entitlement of some high profile ex-players, who wait forever for a club to “match my ambitions” before going into management, is a positive thing. He’s had no problem working down the pyramid to get experience.

His league-winning success at Burton Albion proved he had talent at the job and he was welcomed back earlier his year. Early results suggest it is going to be an up and down, tricky season.

In 2016 he was caught up in the same scandal as the whole Sam Allardyce pint of wine thing. He was named and shown in the Daily Telegraph‘s sting negotiating a deal to work with a fictitious Far Eastern firm looking to become involved in the transfer of footballers. He was also open to the idea of signing players represented by the firm, despite an obvious conflict of interest. Fans were not overly bothered. QPR fully backed him, stating that the Daily Telegraph had failed to provide sufficient evidence. Given that the newspaper backs a useless, corrupt, immoral liar as Prime Minister, we’ll take no lessons from them in the rights and wrongs of public life.

Most of us assume some sort of dodgy dealings are going on in football all the time. We know players are tapped up, despite it being illegal. We know agents earn weirdly high fees for doing next to nothing. And we can all point to players who were signed by a club for no obvious reason, hardly ever played and then sold on 18 months later. We don’t know why but feel it is in some way a favour, or a money-earner for the manager or manager’s associates. There is enough appalling financial business that is legal, that some may be illegal doesn’t trouble most of us.

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink Middlesbrough Chelsea Leeds

 

Three great moments
The boy could hit a free-kick. Oh yes. This is incredible…

 

Our man scores the third from 25 yards. Top corner. Easy…

 

He didn’t score many tap ins…

 

What the people say

– Hardest side foot shot I’ve ever seen!

– One thing I always loved about Jimmy was that he was never there to mess around. You got his best every game. I remember watching him for Atletico – he nearly ended as the league’s top scorer even though they got relegated.

– Went to a Notts County League cup match at Stamford Bridge, it was quite an even contest until JFH nonchalantly wellied one into the top corner from 20 yards. He was a bit better than most of our players

– He used to eat 2 whole packets of Jaffa cakes at half time and I completely and totally respect that.

– One of the greatest penalty takers of all time, his goal scoring record in La Liga & first two seasons at Chelsea are outstanding and was part of an iconic 00’s duo with Eidur Gudjohnsen, an underrated prolific forward for sure.

– He had swagger. Remember a story of him trying to get more wages when he was at Leeds and getting knocked back. Every time he ran past David O’Leary on the touch line at the next training session he kept repeatedly shouting “Why won’t you pay me the money?”

– His goal for Chelsea against Man Utd in the 3-0 at OT is constantly being replayed in my head. Just a clinical finish.

– Embodiment of the phrase “foot like a traction engine”. Along with Shearer, he distilled the art of finishing down to “hard, low and in the corners”. Also the owner of a brilliant arse that could bounce defenders all over the place.

– Gets sold, scores a tonne in La Liga, comes back to the Premier League scores another tonne load, but for O’Leary and Leeds a totally different story played out.

– Pretty certain he once said that people who say scoring is better than sex, aren’t having the right sex.

– When he first arrived at Leeds, George Graham told him to be more aggressive. In the next game he grabbed someone Vinnie Jones style, and was promptly told not to be THAT aggressive. Left a bitter taste in the end… but what a shot he had, no backlift.

Future days
One of the league’s few black managers, Port Vale chairman Norman Smurthwaite said in 2014 that he had decided not to employ Jim out of fear that some of their racist supporters would abuse him. While you’ve got to admire his honesty, despite how unpalatable it might be, it does make you wonder how many others have done likewise and are continuing to do so.

Not yet 50, if he can repeat his success at Burton and get into the Championship, bigger, greater positions probably await him. But if not, then that’s fine too. Making your living in the lower leagues is a perfectly decent football life to live.

But he will forever be remembered for scoring some fantastic, up-off-your-seat goals in his 249 club strikes.

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