FC Twente and the Swiss national team will bid farewell to an important figure when striker Blaise Nkufo leaves Europe for Seattle Sounders in the summer.
Before joining Twente in 2003, Nkufo had been going through clubs at a worrying rate, never quite fulfilling the promise he had shown at FC Lausanne-Sport in the late 1990s. His former Grasshopper-Club coach Erich Vogel, who signed him from Lausanne, would describe him as the biggest "transfer flop" of his 30-year career. Fans who saw him in his subsequent spells with FC Lugano and FC Luzern may have been inclined to agree.
As it was, a move to Germany to join second division 1. FSV Mainz 05 pulled Nkufo out of the doldrums. He scored 14 times in 2001/02 as Jürgen Klopp's charges missed out on promotion to the Bundesliga on the final day of the season, but made the jump to the top tier anyway as Ralf Rangnick brought him to Hannover 96. However, he failed to score in nine league matches before moving on to Twente, a tad disillusioned, in 2003.
Disappointment at Hannover coincided with the start of a six-year exile from the Swiss national team. An argument with coach Jakob Kuhn on the eve of a 2002 friendly looked set to end Nkufo's international career with just two caps to his name. "Nkufo will never play for Switzerland again as long as I'm in charge," said an angry Kuhn. He relented in the run-up to UEFA EURO 2008, though injury saw Nkufo miss out on the finals.
By then Nkufo's club career had finally stabilised, with Twente's 4-3-3 formation bringing the best out of him. Under Fred Rutten and now Steve McClaren, he has scored goals with heartening regularity, and in August 2009 broke Jan Jeuring's club record of 103 league goals for the club, a benchmark set in the 1970s. "It's very special to become a part of the history of this club," Nkufo said at the time. "When I came here I never expected to score so many goals."
With Twente top of the Eredivisie, the 34-year-old Nkufo could yet leave Europe with his first league title, and will be eager to sign off with a decent showing at the World Cup in South Africa. His Switzerland career has been revived under Ottmar Hitzfeld, and having played in all ten of the qualifiers he admitted "Hitzfeld has given me confidence I hadn't had in a long time." With spirits soaring, and the goals still flowing, Seattle may find he still has plenty left in the tank come the autumn.
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