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Leg 1
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Muhren dynasty lives on

It was a special evening at Amsterdam Arena on Sept. 25, 2013 when Ajax hosted second division FC Volendam in the Dutch Cup, just six days after the death of Gerrie Muhren, a legend of both clubs. Remarkably, it was his nephew, Robert Muhren, who rose to the occasion.

The 24-year-old midfielder scored a sensational equaliser for the visitors to take the game into extra time, and then completed a personal brace. Sadly for Volendam, they could not hold the lead as Ajax scored three times to win 4-2, but Muhren certainly made his mark.

With pictures of his uncle Gerrie looking over him from the stands, Robert was obviously very emotional. “It was such a special game for me. Incidentally, I scored my first goal after 67 minutes, and my uncle died aged 67,” he told ESPN FC.

And the young Muhren has not stopped scoring ever since in the Eerste Divisie [Dutch second division]. While his team languishes in mid-table, Robert is the league’s top scorer with 24 goals in 29 games and has only failed to find the net twice in the last 10 Volendam fixtures -- not bad for a late bloomer who isn’t even a natural striker.

Volendam, a small fishing town about 20 kilometers north of Amsterdam, is all about the Muhren family. Amusingly, Robert lives on a street called “Meester Muhrenlaan,” named after his great grandfather who was a highly appreciated local teacher. Robert’s grandfather Jan was a musician who composed FC Volendam’s club song -- which you can listen to here -- while Jan’s brother Pe worked as an announcer at Volendam’s small stadium, where he once taunt Louis van Gaal after Volendam defeated Ajax; one of its stands is now called after him: Pe Muhren-tribune.

Jan had four daughters and five sons, two of whom became famous footballers after starting their careers at Volendam. Midfielder Gerrie Muhren joined Ajax in 1968, won three Dutch championship titles and three European Cup trophies with the legendary team that caught the imagination of fans all over the world with their Total Football at the beginning of 1970s. Despite his vast array of silverware, he is perhaps most fondly remembered for nonchalantly juggling with the ball at Santiago Bernabeu stadium against Real Madrid.

His younger brother, Arnold, also a left-sided midfielder, joined him at Amsterdam in 1971, but moved on to Twente and then made his name in England when signing for Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town in 1978 -- helping them to lift the UEFA Cup three years later alongside fellow Dutchman Frans Thijssen. Arnold also won two FA Cup trophies with Ron Atkinson’s Manchester United, scoring a penalty against Brighton in the 1983 final.

In the Netherlands, Arnold will forever remain in the history books as the oldest member of the Euro ‘88 winning squad, at the age of 38. Arguably his greatest moment came in the final against the Soviet Union, when Marco van Basten turned his long pass into the most spectacular volley ever. [Muhren himself admitted, though, that it was actually quite a poor cross.]

Three other brothers didn’t make it in professional football -- Jack Muhren works as an announcer at Volendam stadium nowadays; Jan Muhren is a famous local singer, while Peter Muhren was forced to retire from the game at the age of 26 because of injury -- however, now his son Robert is fulfilling his dream for him.

Many a time, fans and journalists tend to overhype young players who were born into famous footballing families, and they can easily fail to meet high expectations. The case of Robert Muhren, however, is quite the opposite. He joined the famed Ajax academy at the age of 12, and uncle Arnold was even his coach for a season, but four years later the youngster decided to move back.

“I lost my happiness and decided to return to FC Volendam,” he says. Initially, the club didn’t really believe in him, though. Despite his heritage, Muhren wasn’t offered a contract when he turned 18 and was forced to move to an amateur side named RKAV Volendam.

It was only at the age of 22 that Robert was finally given a second chance at his beloved club, but even then he had to work hard to convince the coaches of his qualities. Last season he scored 10 goals, but was often kept on the bench and used as a substitute. Only in the summer, when two of Volendam’s brightests stars -- Jack Tuyp and Michiel Kramer -- left for pastures new, was Muhren finally given a chance to prove himself on regular basis.

He took it with both hands, scoring a hat trick against Almere City on the opening day of the season, and has never looked back since, telling ESPN FC: “The coach has a lot of confidence in me, and I am paying him back with goals. He even netted seven times in a January friendly against tiny local rivals Marken in a bizarre 17-1 win.

“Robert still considers himself a midfielder, but he possesses great scoring instincts. He is intelligent, has a good shot, heads the ball well and is usually in the right place at the right time. Everyone knows that he has skills to play in the first division, he just needs to believe in himself,” says Nick Tol, a local journalist who follows Volendam closely.

Muhren is not letting the weight of history drag him down. “I don’t feel additional pressure because of my family,” he says. “[Gerrie and Arnold] were left footed and pure midfielders, while I am right footed and like to be positioned higher up the pitch. Maybe our technique is a bit similar, but I am not at their level yet. My goal is to get an opportunity at an Eredivisie club, but I would naturally love to play abroad like my uncles.”

When asked about his favourite destination in England, his choice was rather surprising. Muhren isn’t seriously thinking of Manchester United [claiming: “I can only dream about that”] but, despite a family connection, he didn’t mention Ipswich Town at all either.

“Wolverhampton look like a nice club because they play in orange shirts, just like Volendam,” he said. As Wolves look set to be promoted back to the Championship again, it may well work out. Wolves manager Kenny Jackett will surely remember playing against Arnold Muhren in his Watford days in the 1980s, so it would be interesting to know what he thinks of the latest member of the great Muhren dynasty.