Produced on October 31, 1964, in Utrecht, Netherlands, Marco van Basten became one of European football’s most talented players. He led the Dutch league in scoring for four straight seasons with AFC Ajax, subsequently won three Ballon d’Or Awards with Italy’s AC Milan.
The son of a former semiprofessional soccer player, he joined local youth team EDO in the age of 6. Van Basten spent almost a decade with a different youth club, UVV Utrecht, subsequently briefly played for USV Elinkwijk before signing with Dutch giants AFC Ajax in 1981.
Although part of the team that won back to back Eredivisie titles, the tall, fit scorer really came into his own after fellow striker Wim Kieft left for Italy in 1983. Van Basten led the Eredivisie in scoring from 1984 87, helping his team win another league title and two KNVB Cups over the way. He stopped his career with Ajax in victorious style by knocking in the winning goal of the 1987 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup final.
Van Basten joined Italian powerhouse AC Milan in ’87 and helped the team win the Serie A title despite being restricted to 11 league matches by an ankle injury. The unstoppable striker netted a tournament-high five goals, for example, match-winner against West Germany in the semifinal as well as a mind boggling strike from an impossible angle to get the better of the Soviet Union in the final.
Joined by countrymen Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit, van Basten provided more astounding results for Milan. He was named the Ballon d’Or victor in 1989 and 1990 and twice topped the league in scoring, his play starting the Italian club to multiple national league titles and Cup triumphs. Soon later, he became only the 3rd player to win three Ballon d’Or Awards.
And, almost abruptly, his career was over. Impeded by another ankle injury that season, van Basten ran back to take part in the 1993 European Cup final, but was reinjured with a savage foul. The talented striker spent another two years getting multiple surgeries and rehabilitation before finally declaring his retirement in August 1995, at age 30.
Van Basten entered the coaching ranks in 2003 as an assistant with Ajax’s reserve squad, but was thrust to the function of national team trainer the next summer. His tenure began nicely, as the Oranje went undefeated while qualifying for the 2006 World Cup, but the team endured a disappointing second-round elimination in the major tournament. The Ajax star was named manager of his previous team in 2008, and he stopped his run as national coach following the Dutch lost to Russia in the quarterfinals of the summer’s European Championship. Despite his four-year deal with Ajax, he stepped down in May 2009 after the team did not be eligible for the European Cup.