The former Netherlands youth international was left with brain damage after suffering a cardiac arrest on the pitch and being put into a coma in 2017
Justin Kluivert says seeing his team-mate and close friend Abdelhak Nouri collapse on the pitch for Ajax in 2017 was the worst moment of his life.
In 2017, Nouri, aged just 20 at the time, suffered a cardiac arrhythmia attack in a friendly match against Werder Bremen, and was put into a medically-induced coma.
Nouri left hospital and returned home in early 2020 but his footballing career was ended as he suffered permanent brain damage, requiring round-the-clock care from his family.
Kluivert spoke to Goal about the emotional impact of seeing his friend, a Netherlands youth international taking his first steps in Ajax’s first team, have his career so cruelly taken away.
‘In one second, everything is different’
“That was the worst moment of my life,” Kluivert says. “I was just in shock, I couldn’t believe it.
“One second you’re still standing with him on the pitch and making jokes and the next second everything is different. It happened so incredibly quickly.
“I wanted to be alone [afterwards]. I am a person who deals with such emotional events by myself. I thought a lot, kept reminding myself of the many wonderful moments we shared with him.
“I have learned all over again in a new way that you have to value life because it can change from one moment to the next.”
Kluivert, now on loan at RB Leipzig, was one of a number of former Ajax players to adopt Nouri’s old shirt number 34 when he left for Roma in 2018.
“When I got to Roma, I wanted to use this gesture to express my love and support for my friend Appie.
“It was planned that I would wear the number 34 in my first season and then switch to the number 11. But [Aleksandar] Kolarov was still wearing the 11. Then I decided on my year of birth and took 99. That also worked out well.”
‘De Ligt is extraordinary, De Jong phenomenal’
Kluivert also spoke about two more of his former Ajax team-mates, Juventus defender Matthijs de Ligt and Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong.
The Eredivisie giants have had plenty of talented players come through in recent years but, asked to name his most talented team-mates, those two stood above the rest.
“Two guys come to mind here. One of them is Matthijs de Ligt, with whom I played together in my youth for years. He is one of the most extraordinary players in the world and one of the best defenders in his age group. The other team-mate is Frenkie de Jong.
“Matthijs’ attitude was incredible. He went to the gym every day and even had fun doing it. He always had his goal in mind and worked like crazy to achieve that goal. I take my hat off to him.
“With Frenkie, I just loved his innate talent. When he had the ball at his feet, the fans could only be amazed. He has phenomenal technique.”