by Brent Atema

There have been better players than Marco van Basten, Diego Maradona and Pelé to name but two. There are even Dutchmen that could be considered better than van Basten, such as Johan Cruyff and Ruud Gullit, and better goal scorers such as Ronaldo and Gerd Müller. However, no one made scoring goals look as effortless and smooth as San Marco. He was “The Big Easy” long before Ernie Els earned that title with his fluid golf swing.

So why do I love Marco van Basten?  Because he displayed as wide an array of talents as any footballer I have ever seen, and did it in the most graceful and efficient way.  He was a pure goal scorer who made everything look easy. Van Basten scored 152 goals in 172 matches for Ajax, with 80 of those goals coming in his last 72 games. In 1987 he moved to AC Milan, where he scored 124 goals in 201 matches.

“He could score goals in every possible way — spectacular goals, tap-ins, individual goals,” said former Milan teammate, Demetrio Albertini.  “He was a complete footballer.”

There is no better example of that than the 1988 European Championships, a tournament that not only showcases his talents, but epitomizes exactly what van Basten’s game was all about. He was much more of a footballer than just a goal scorer. He had quickness, ability in the air, a good shot with both feet, natural instinct for the game and an uncontrollable desire to win — all of which he revealed to the world during the tournament.

Van Basten, having been out for the previous six months following ankle surgery, started the first match on the bench, a loss to the Soviet Union.  From then on, the 1988 Euros became the Marco van Basten Show — a show that started with a bang in the next match against England.  In a must-win match for the Dutch, van Basten scored a hat trick to eliminate England from the tournament.  The Dutch eventually made it to the semi finals to face the hosts and old rivals, West Germany. Van Basten scored the winner with just two minutes remaining. That goal led the Dutch to the finals and paved the way to the most memorable Marco van Basten moment there has ever been.

Truly great players always have that one career-defining moment, and van Basten had such a moment in the 1988 European Championship Finals against the Soviet Union.  His right-footed volley from a ridiculous angle made it 2-0 to the Dutch, and went down as one of the most beautiful, most spectacular goals I have ever seen.

Unfortunately, another reason I love Marco van Basten is because I truly wonder how great he could have been if his career had not ended prematurely. Shortly after winning his third European Ballon d’or and being named World Footballer of the Year for 1992 by both FIFA and World Soccer Magazine, van Basten’s career would come to an early end.  The ankle injury that kept him out for six months in 1988 finally defeated San Marco. Van Basten appeared in the 1993 Champions League final against Olympique de Marseille, but was nowhere near the player he had been. His career was over at only 28 years old. Despite having a limited career, van Basten is still regarded as not just one of the top strikers in history, but one of greatest footballers of all time.

“He was the most beautiful striker I’ve ever seen. He had an incredible elegance about him. He could do anything with the ball.” — former AC Milan teammate Mauro Tossatti.

Read more from Brent on his blog, Global Football Today, and follow him on Twitter @GlobalFoot2Day.