A bittersweet season could end on a high note for Feyenoord's Paul Bosvelt in the UEFA Cup final.
The Feyenoord captain has put a difficult start to the season behind him to play a lead role in the Dutch team's run to the UEFA Cup final. Two broken cheekbones and a mysterious leg injury are not exactly auguries of success - but Bosvelt's reward for overcoming these "setbacks" comes against BV Borussia Dortmund at the Feijenoord stadium on Wednesday night.
'Best spell of my career'
"For me this is a great time," the 32-year-old former Dutch international said. "After a year of injuries I am approaching the form I was in before, and during, EURO 2000™. That was the best spell of my career, and if I can stay fit I can play like that again."
While Bosvelt struggled, Feyenoord struggled, and Bert van Marwijk's side failed to progress beyond the first group stage of the UEFA Champions League. "We started the season well below our level, when I think back to our Champions League displays," he explained. "But after that the team has grown." Enough to have claimed the following, impressive list of scalps along the road to Rotterdam - SC Freiburg, Rangers FC, PSV Eindhoven and Internazionale FC.
Feyenoord have excelled in the role of underdog in the UEFA Cup. This, and consistent team selection ("the starting line-up is clear and that gives you confidence"), are the reasons Bosvelt gives for their sudden push for honours. While they eventually had to settle for third place in the Eredivisie, they remain 90 minutes away from their first European title since 1974.
'A real team'
"Good players do not necessarily make a good team," he said. "When you compare our squad with Inter's, they have more quality. But we showed that we are a real team and hopefully we can show that again in the final. When the Inter players said they didn't know any of our players, it was a lack of respect. I think it is important to treat your opponent with respect. But their attitude made us stronger."
Underdogs ready to bite
Now they face Dortmund, newly-crowned champions of the 1. Bundesliga. "We will start as the underdog. Before the Rangers tie, everyone considered them favourites, and even when we met PSV they had a slight advantage. But both times we proved our strength and that is why we are where we are."
Bucking the trend
There seems to be something in the Feyenoord ethos that delights in bucking the trend, in overturning the fashionable aesthetic. Bosvelt embodies this best according to journalist Simon Kuper: "Feyenoord fans love triers who perform at the limit of their ability. They idolised Ed de Goey, and now the hardworking Bosvelt."
'There's only one Paul Bosvelt'
Bosvelt's style has won admirers further afield. During a recent visit to England to watch an FA Premiership game, he was accosted in a Leeds pub by fans remembering a particularly robust tackle on a Manchester United FC player in a Champions League game. "There's only one Paul Bosvelt," was the cry that pierced the Yorkshire night. It will be heard in stereo if Feyenoord can beat Dortmund on Wednesday.