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Davids ready to take on the world
Friday 23rd June 2000

By Simon Kuper

You can pinpoint the moment in Euro 2000 that Holland woke up. It was about 10pm in Rotterdam on Friday, June 16, when Edgar Davids, who had looked off the pace all tournament, tackled a Dane deep inside his own half.

The Dane fell over, as often happens to people who tangle with Davids. The little Dutchman leaped over his opponent's prostrate body to the ball, which he swung instantly into midfield. Seconds later it was Holland 1 Denmark 0.

The victory over the Dane was a characteristic Davids moment. To him, life is a series of one-on-ones. When we met three years ago in a hotel on the French Riviera, he barked at me: "You! You're badly dressed!"

Surely, I said, he could not be referring to me. "Damn yes!" said Davids. To him, this was Davids 1 Kuper 0. The next morning, we both appeared in the same white T-shirt and blue jeans combination. He glared. Kuper 1 Davids 1.

This view of life came to him early. His schoolteacher at primary school, a lady called Urma van de Lande, told the Dutch journalist Christiaan Ruesink of the time the child Davids had refused to answer her summons.

"Suddenly," Van de Lande recalled, "he stood up and walked straight out of class. To his house. I can still see him going, in his waggling way, with one arm pulled up a little, the way he often does on the football pitch now, as if he has to keep himself in balance." The teacher had followed him home and asked why he had not listened to her.

Edje Davids had explained: "You shout ‘Here!' to a dog, but I am not a dog. I am a person." The teacher had secretly agreed with him, but said: "When I call you, you don't run away." They had shown each other respect. They never had problems again. Davids 1 Van de Lande 1.

As a teenager, Davids fell in love with basketball. So did the other young black players in the Dutch team, Michael Reiziger, Patrick Kluivert and Clarence Seedorf. Another Dutch journalist, Erik Brouwer, a basketball nut himself, has written wonderfully on the subject. He recounts that, after Ajax practices, Davids and Reiziger would be so full of adrenaline that they would go to a local basketball court and play ferocious games of one-on-one. Apparently Davids usually won.

Basketball is a game of incessant personal duels. It also appears to be Davids's chief source of inspiration. When he walked out of the Dutch camp at Euro 96, advising the coach Guus Hiddink "to take his head out of other players' asses", he was quoting almost directly from Bad As I Wanna Be, the autobiography of his hero Dennis Rodman. The Zorro-like glasses he wears on the pitch resemble the glasses once worn on court by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the former Chicago Bulls player Horace Grant.

Once, when Scottie Pippen made a flying visit to Amsterdam, a magazine allowed Davids to interview him. "So you're the Michael Jordan of soccer?" Pippen asked the weird-looking European shortie. "No," said Davids, "more the Barkley!" "But you're a little bit short, man!" said Pippen. Pippen 2 Davids 1.

Kids shooting hoops on rough American playgrounds delight in tricks such as the no-look pass or the cross-over dribble. The Dutch equivalent is street football. Davids and Kluivert grew up playing it on the same square in northern Amsterdam. "Street football," says Kluivert, "is the real football." Street footballers don't care about scoring goals or working hard or running fast.

An Amsterdam street footballer, generally the son of poor immigrants, receives the ball motionless and then tries to beat his opponent with a trick. The ultimate is the nutmeg.

Davids now lives in Turin but still pops up occasionally in Amsterdam street football. One street kid, asked if he has ever played against Davids, says: "Many times." Has he ever been nutmegged by him? "No!" The kids still speak of the street legend Mousid, who is said to have nutmegged Davids. Mousid 1 Davids 0.

If you beat Davids, he hates it but respects you. Davids arranged for Mousid to train with Juventus for a week. Mousid, now 19, has an agent but not a football team. He suspects that "field football" is not for him. Too much passing. Mousid measures life in terms of tricks.

The aim of Davids's life is to beat everybody. He realised early on that he would never do so with tricks alone. He is no Maradona (another hero), no Zinedine Zidane (his buddy). Only rarely does Davids show the world a trick.

Against France on Wednesday, faced with the combined might of Marcel Desailly and Frank Leboeuf, he swivelled 360 degrees, simultaneously flicking the ball from one foot to the other, and won a corner out of nothing. Davids 1 Desailly/Lebouef 0.

For most of the game against France, Davids fought out one-on-ones with Patrick Vieira, the French Davids. But Davids also plays eleven-on-elevens. He has to win matches.

Watch him jumping up before kick-off or after a goal to bump chests with a team-mate in mid-air (just as the New York Knicks do). Watch him uttering primal screams that no one can hear above the crowd noise. Watch him enter another realm after a goal.

Davids is Holland's mental coach. With him around, his team-mates dare not lose. Holland 3 France 2. The man of the match was Davids.

Recently he visited Rotterdam in a white limousine. To the tallest skyscraper in town is attached an outsize image of him running into the building on one side and bursting out on the other. The limo drove past it. Davids 1 World 0.

Davids would never have been another Michael Jordan in basketball, he's not tall enough. He's now the Michael Jordan of football, size doesn't matter.

Great article. Quite emotional too, i had never read such an emotional article on soccer before.

Now I am even prouder to have Davids at Juve!!!!

F:)O:)R:)Z:)A:) D:)A:)V:)I:)D:)S
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