Ex-PSV striker Mateja Kezman is the next to be inducted into the Football-Oranje hall of fame. Michael Bell takes a look back at his prolific four-year spell in Eindhoven. 

kezman-psvIn the summer of 2000, PSV had a big problem. Star striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, who netted 27 goals to fire PSV to the Eredivisie title suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury, which not only suspended his move to Manchester United but also put him on the sidelines for close to a year. The Eindhoven club needed to find a replacement.

Their search took them to Serbia, where a fee of around £8 million was agreed with Partizan Belgrade for a 21-year-old Mateja Kezman, who had netted 33 times in 54 appearances for his boyhood club. Little was known in Eindhoven about PSV’s new signing but he had just made a name for himself at Euro 2000, for the wrong reasons, as he received a red card in Yugoslavia’s 1-0 win over Norway only a minute after entering the field as a substitute. This was his only appearance at the tournament.

However, Kezman slotted straight into Erik Gerets sides attack, and PSV enjoyed a good start to the season, lifting the Johan Cruijff Schaal and winning four of their opening six league games, with their new striker netting three goals. The youngster was already proving to be a good replacement for van Nistelrooy and in the Champions League game with Manchester United, he made himself a hero with the fans. With PSV leading 2-1, Kezman took the ball on the right wing before bursting past Maikel Silvestre and sending an unstoppable strike past Raimond van der Gouw to seal a famous victory. It was the beginning of an excellent first season in Eindhoven for the striker, who finished the campaign as league top scorer with 24 goals and led PSV to their second successive title.

Eredivisie defences just couldn’t handle Kezman, who had two good feet, blistering pace and the ability to score goals from anywhere around the box, whether it be a tap-in, header or stunning volley. His bustling and never give up attitude made him an instant fan favourite at the Philips Stadion.

In the summer, van Nistelrooy finally departed for Manchester United, but PSV already had his replacement in Kezman, who netted 19 times in his second season at the club. His goals couldn’t prevent Ajax from lifting the Eredivisie trophy, while Feyenoord dumped PSV out of the UEFA Cup in the quarter-finals on penalties. The club only lifted the Johan Cruijff Schaal that season and Gerets was sacked, with Guus Hiddink returning to the club for his second spell in charge after leading them to European Cup glory in the 1980’s.

Hiddink wasn’t the only arrival in the summer of 2002 as PSV brought youngster Arjen Robben to the club from Groningen and the winger would strike up a lethal partnership with Kezman which was dubbed “Batman and Robben” by the locals. Kezman was nicknamed Batman due to the superhero’s theme song being belted out every time he netted in the Philips Stadion. That theme song was heard a lot during the 02-03 season, with Kezman netting an amazing 35 goals in 33 Eredivisie games, including three hat-tricks which saw PSV just pip Ajax to the title by a single point and earn the striker the accolade of Dutch footballer of the year.

Kezman was a superstar in the Netherlands and one man tried to take advantage of his stardom with a plan to kidnap the striker and extort a ransom from PSV. His plan was foiled by the police in October 2003 and the incident didn’t phase Kezman, who had another excellent season in front of goal. He started the season with eight goals in the opening five league games, and added another 23 in the Eredivisie, while Kezman also enjoyed his best season in Europe, netting six in the UEFA Cup as PSV reached the quarter-finals before going down to Newcastle United.

Kezman was in the form of his life and it was clear his time at PSV was coming to an end. He didn’t depart without a gift for the fans, though, with the Serbian netting possibly the greatest goal of his career against ADO Den Haag in his last home game (see video below), before scoring a hat-trick in the final game of the season against AZ. The final two matches sealed 2nd spot and Champions League qualification for PSV, who were beaten to the title by Ajax, and in the summer Kezman left for London as Chelsea sealed a double deal for the striker and Arjen Robben. Chelsea looked to be getting an absolute bargain with Kezman costing only £5.3 million.

However, the following year as PSV enjoyed an amazing Champions League campaign which saw them just knocked out in the Champions League semi-finals by AC Milan, Kezman was enduring an awful campaign with Chelsea, which saw him fail to replicate the form he had in the Netherlands. He would net only four times in 25 appearances in the Premier League and was deemed an instant flop by the English media despite the club winning the title.

Kezman looked a shadow of his former self and his decline after his only season in England was rapid. Moves to Atletico Madrid, Fenerbahce, PSG and Zenit st Petersburg followed with the forward never tasting the success he had in Eindhoven. Spells in China and with BATE Borisov brought a curtain down on his career with Kezman hanging up his boots in 2012 at the age of 33.

Sadly around Europe, Kezman is now remembered as a striker who couldn’t live up to his potential, but for four years at PSV the Serbian was one of the most lethal and talented strikers in Europe. Kezman netted 105 times in 122 appearances for the Boeren, putting him alongside the great modern-era goalscorers in the club’s history such as Ronaldo, Romario, van Nistelrooy and Luc Nilis.

Batman’s heroics will always be remembered in Eindhoven.

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