While PSV was made to wait until the season’s final day to officially secure the title, there was an aura of inevitability about them, losing just twice throughout the duration of the 2002-03 campaign.
Ajax may have boasted the league’s best attack, but it was PSV who owned the top flight’s most efficient scorer in Mateja Kezman, the striker netting a career-best 35 goals in the campaign to take home the golden boot. Kezman’s ruthless nature in front of goal was a metaphor for PSV’s season, as they steamrolled their opposition to return to the top of Dutch football. Dennis Rommedahl and teenager Arjen Robben proved the perfect complement for Kezman in attack.
The backbone of the team, however, was provided by tenacious midfielders Mark van Bommel and Johann Vogel, who helped to ground Hiddink’s free-flowing side, lending a hand to an experienced back-line as PSV would concede just 20 goals all season – 11 fewer than the league’s next best defence.
It would be unfair to say PSV’s title-winning campaign came as no surprise – but that’s very much the case when you look at the business they conducted in summer 2002. The Eindhoven club purchased Ji-Sung Park for €5m from Kyoto Sanga, which would prove a terrific buy down the line, but it was the €4.3m arrival of teenager Arjen Robben from Groningen which proved crucial in their 2002-03 title success. The return of Guus Hiddink, replacing Eric Gerets in the dugout, would also prove to be vital.
Ajax surely had high hopes when they brought Jari Litmanen back on a free transfer from Liverpool, but the Finnish striker was unable to conjure up past magic, something Aron Winter had given up on when he officially decided to hang up his boots after starting 31 league matches for Ajax during the 2001-02 campaign.
Having stumbled out of the gate the previous season – winning just twice from their first eight matches – PSV made no such mistake in the 2002-03 campaign. With Guus Hiddink back at the helm, the Eindhoven club opened with six successive victories, outscoring their opposition 18-1 to set the tone for the year ahead.
PSV’s only two defeats came against Feyenoord, as they failed to register a point against the Rotterdam club, but that was the lone hiccup in an otherwise flawless campaign. They brushed aside their closest competitors Ajax, doing the double over Ronald Koeman’s side. A thrilling 4-2 victory at the Amsterdam ArenA in December catapulted them back into first place and they never looked back, locking down top spot through to the end of the season.
Ajax were able to make things interesting at the top, making PSV wait to the final matchday to actually clinch the title thanks to nine straight wins to close out the season, but their 2-0 defeat in Eindhoven directly preceding that run ultimately proved too much to overcome. It helped PSV build a nine-point gap over their rivals, and while Ajax were able to battle back to within three heading into the final matchday, a 0-0 draw in Groningen was enough for Guus Hiddink’s side to clinch their third title in four years.
At the bottom, De Graafschap saw a run of eight successive seasons in the top flight come to an end as they finished bottom largely due to their woeful away form, claiming just four points all season on their travels. Excelsior, competing in the Eredivisie for the first time since 1987, finished level on points at the bottom and were unable to navigate their way through the relegation play-off.
PLAYER OF THE SEASON
Mateja Kezman (PSV)
The striker’s ruthless ability in front of goal was undoubtedly one of the biggest contributors to bringing the title back to PSV.
MANAGER OF THE SEASON
Guus Hiddink (PSV)
The Dutchman’s Eindhoven return evoked memories of his previous spell as his side were firing on all cylinders en route to the title.
YOUNG PLAYER OF THE SEASON
Arjen Robben (PSV)
Mateja Kezman - 35 goals
TEAM OF THE SEASON
GOAL OF THE SEASON
Despite a plethora of quality scorers, NEC’s ZICO TUMBA takes home goal of the season honours for this brilliantly acrobatic - not to mention perfectly timed - strike against Excelsior:
MOST EXPENSIVE TRANSFER
LEANDRO BONFIM (INCOMING), Vitoria to PSV, €5.5m
MAHAMADOU DIARRA (OUTGOING), VITESSE to Lyon, €3.9m
KEY MOMENT OF THE SEASON
A 13-match winning run between November and March culminated in a 2-0 victory over closest title-rivals Ajax at the Philips Arena – Mateja Kezman scoring two of his 35 league goals – helping to build a nine-point cushion that they would see through to the end of the season.