PETER FOSSEN, general manager of PSV Eindhoven, made journalists at Football Expo in Cannes wake up and sit up when he casually made the observation that Ruud Van Nistelrooy might very well be joining Manchester United in the none-too-distant future.

Fossen was speaking in a debate about the future of the European club competitions. He used United’s interest in his star striker as an example of the increasing financial imbalance in the European game. If United wanted to offer big money to Van Nistelrooy, not even PSV – one of Holland’s Big Three – could stand in his way.

This would be a big loss for PSV, of course, though nothing like the loss the club’s fans would have imagined a year ago. That has everything to do with the signing, last summer, of Yugoslav striker Mateja Kezman.

Partizan Belgrade, the Yugoslav army club, who claim they sold Kezman for around œ10million, never expected to harvest more than a tenfold profit within a year. They doubted the player’s value all the more when he made twobrief substitute appearances at Euro 2000.

First Kezman played the last eight minutes of the astonishing 3-3 draw with Slovenia as deputy for Predrag Mijatovic. Then he played just two minutes of the 1-0 win over Norway, again replacing Mijatovic, but this time being sent off almost immediately.

Turkish club Fenerbahce had already earmarked Kezman to lead their domestic challenge to Istanbul rivals Galatasaray. Milan, Bologna and Fiorentina also considered a bid. But Kezman’s temperamental and short-lived Euro 2000 put them off. Anyway, by then, PSV were not about to waste the initial judgment of their spies that Kezman, still only 21, had an awful lot of talent.

They needed a new striker to fill the void left by Van Nistelrooy, sidelined by recurring knee problems. Kezman, born on April 12, 1979, has proved just the man – though it took him a while to adjust to life and football in Western Europe. Still, he has plenty of time. PSV have Kezman signed up until June 2005.

PSV officials and fans have high standards when it comes to star strikers. This is the club, remember, at which Romario and then Ronaldo built their reputations in Europe before going on to greater things at Barcelona. Kezman did not exactly explode on Dutch football, but once he did hit his stride the goals started to flow and so did the points for PSV.

Kezman says: ‘I was so determined to do well when I arrived that maybe I tried too hard. I didn’t get the balance right. Everything was new to me. I was mixed up between wanting to learn and being over-confident.’

The young striker has never been short of advice. He says: ‘My father was a goalkeeper. He played professional football back in Yugoslavia for 15 years. But he always advised me to be a forward. He said it wasn’t as risky and it was more satisfying. He recognised I had a good shot. I think the same;I honestly believe that goalscorers are born, not made.

‘So, when I came to Holland, I decided I would be satisfied with nothing less than 18 goals in my first season. I made a slow start – I know it. But now that the goals are going in I have set a new target of 30. If we keep playing as well as we are and winning our matches then we will be scoring goals – and I will be among them.

PSV’s veteran coachEric Gerets has helped put Kezman on the right track. ‘Eric Gerets has taught me so much about working for the team, about personalised training. But he is a hard man. He warns everyone that if they do not deliver then he will drop them – and he’s not joking.’

Kezman found that to his cost in a most humiliating manner when he was substituted after only 20 minutes of the duel with Ajax. He says: ‘I was almost in tears. I wanted to pack my bags and get on the first plane back to Belgrade.

‘Then the coach explained he had to substitute me for tactical reasons and I should not take it personally. Episodes like that have helped me grow up very quickly as a footballer.’

Kezman has come a long way in a few short years since he learned to play as a boy in his home town of Zemun near Belgrade and then turned part-time professional with Sartid.

Nine goals in 17 games in the 1997-98 season persuaded Partizan of Kezman’s potential, and while the youngster hit only a modest six goals in 22 games for the army club in 1998-99, he finished top League scorer last term with 26 goals in 16 starts.

Perhaps PSV fans expected too much too soon. Kezman went without a goal in his opening three games, against Roda JC, De Graafschap and Willem II, was substituted twice and collected a couple of yellow cards.

Then, gradually at first, he began to find his touch in the penalty box. His first goal for PSV was recorded in a 3-0 away win over Fortuna Sittard and he was thrilled to score another in the 3-1 Champions League defeat of Manchester United.

But it was in November that Kezman hit his stride. He scored all PSV’s goals in their 4-1 away win over Heerenveen, two at home to PAOK Salonika, another against NAC Breda, and two more away to Roda in a 2-1 win. InJanuary, Kezman achieved the remarkable feat of scoring a hat-trick in successive outings, against Den Bosch and Roosendaal, taking his total to 27 goals in 35 competitive outings.

Ruud Van who?

Club PSV Eindhoven (Hol)
Country Yugoslavia
Born April 12, 1979, in Zemun
Previous clubs Zemun, Radnicki Pirot, Loznica, Sartid Smederevo, Partizan Belgrade
International debut May 2000, v China
International caps 6 (2 goals)
Honours Yugoslav League 1999