It took seconds. A high ball, flicked intelligently on by Lewis Holtby, found Klaas-Jan Huntelaar in space to lash in in first-half added time. The striker FC Schalke 04 fans love to call the Hunter had done it again. That goal, to halve Arsenal FC's lead on matchday four, turned the match. The renewed belief in Huntelaar's team-mates was almost palpable. With the home crowd roaring them on, the Königsblauen saved a well-deserved point.
Huntelaar is a living, goalscoring reproof to those pundits who insist there's no room for a fox in the box in modern football. If you are a defender, the most disturbing aspect of the Dutch marksman's game is the speed at which, after the ball is in the net, ecstatic celebration gives way to a thoughtful expression that suggests he is already visualising his next goal.
His countryman Ruud van Nistelrooy, who knew a bit about scoring goals, used to say he became addicted to the sound of the ball hitting the back of the net. Reminded of that quote, Huntelaar nods to emphasise that he knows exactly what Van Nistelrooy means. "When you hear it you spend the whole of the next week longing to hear it again," he said. "It's like the elixir of life."
Huntelaar, 29, is enjoying the best form of his career. You can see why Bernd Schuster once said: "He looks like he was cloned from Marco van Basten. The way he moves, shoots with both feet, his powerful headers, all remind me of Van Basten." Players can find such tags invidious but Huntelaar must have been delighted by Schuster's words, as he trained under Van Basten at AFC Ajax. "He was a striker, and it was great to train with him because he gives such good tips," said the Schalke forward.
At Schalke, he has flourished under Huub Stevens. "In my case, it's just important that he trusts in me and let's me play for 90 minutes," he added. "He only says something if anything goes wrong, or something happens, he just wants to have his players where he wants them to be. He can put on some pressure but he is normally pretty calm and lets every player do their thing."
Apart from Stevens's counsel, Huntelaar has benefited from being able to observe – and learn from – Raúl González, the most prolific striker in the history of the UEFA Champions League, who left Schalke in the summer. "He was obviously a fantastic player, who knows what to do in any situation on the pitch," he said. "He always had a solution on hand, so he was such an important player for us. We've all had to fill the gap he left behind."
Schalke – and their Dutch striker – reached the semi-finals of this competition two seasons ago. After matchday four, they are top of Group B with eight points. As a player who has experienced his share of highs and lows, Huntelaar is not about to get carried away anytime soon. "It's quite strange when you see your dreams coming true. You play football for a long time, for different teams, and when you are young you have your dreams, but when things start to happen it is strange."
This is an abridged version of an article that appears in the latest edition of Champions Matchday, which is available in digital versions on Apple Newsstand or Zinio, as well as in print. You can follow the magazine on Twitter @ChampionsMag.
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