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Dutch soccer striker Marco van Basten won three European Player of the Year honors before his career was cut short by a serious ankle injury.
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Born on October 31, 1964, in Utrecht, Netherlands, Marco van Basten became one of European soccer's most gifted players. He led the Dutch league in scoring for four consecutive seasons with AFC Ajax, then won three Ballon d'Or Awards with Italy's AC Milan. His career cut short at age 30 by an ankle injury, van Basten went on to serve as the Dutch national team coach and manager of Ajax.
"I'm a person who hates doing things on the average level. I'm really only cut out to do things at the very top."
Marcel "Marco" van Basten was born on October 31, 1964, in Utrecht, Netherlands. The son of a former semi-professional soccer player, he joined local youth team EDO at the age of 6. Van Basten spent nearly a decade with another youth club, UVV Utrecht, then briefly played for USV Elinkwijk before signing with Dutch giants AFC Ajax in 1981.
Marco van Basten made his Ajax senior team debut in April 1982 as a substitute for Dutch legend Johan Cruyff. Although part of the club that won back-to-back Eredivisie titles, the tall, athletic scorer truly 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 along the way. He ended his career with Ajax in triumphant fashion 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 club win the Serie A title despite being limited to 11 league games by an ankle injury. But it was his performance for the Netherlands during the 1988 European Championship that left no doubt about his elite skills. The unstoppable striker netted a tournament-high five goals, including the game-winner against West Germany in the semifinal and a mind-boggling strike from an impossible angle to sink the Soviet Union in the final.
Joined by countrymen Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit, van Basten delivered more astounding results for Milan. He was named the Ballon d'Or winner in 1989 and 1990 and twice topped the league in scoring, his play sparking the Italian club to multiple domestic league titles and Cup victories. In November 1992, he became the first player to score four goals in a European Cup match. Shortly afterward, he became just the third player to win three Ballon d'Or Awards.
And, almost suddenly, his career was over. Slowed by another ankle injury that season, van Basten rushed back to participate in the 1993 European Cup final, but was reinjured by a brutal foul. The gifted striker spent the next two years undergoing multiple operations and rehabilitation before finally announcing 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 into the role of national team coach the following summer. His tenure started well, as the Oranje went undefeated while qualifying for the 2006 World Cup, but the team suffered a disappointing second-round elimination in the big tournament.
The Ajax legend was named manager of his old club in 2008, and he ended his run as national coach after the Dutch lost to Russia in the quarterfinals of that summer's European Championship.
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