After his reunion with coach Van Gaal, things initially didn’t go smoothly in Spain. However, he managed to secure a spot in the starting lineup of the reigning champions. This came at the expense of Sonny Anderson. Kluivert proved to be a complement to the Brazilian Rivaldo with his technique, physical strength, and teamwork, and they would form a successful attacking duo for years. In his first season, Kluivert scored fifteen goals and provided sixteen assists. He played a crucial role in FC Barcelona’s productive attack, which ultimately found the net 87 times in La Liga. Kluivert became one of the crowd’s favorites. Barcelona eventually won the Spanish league title with an eleven-point lead. In the Champions League, Kluivert didn’t participate because he couldn’t be registered after his last-minute transfer.
In the 1999/00 season, which was a special year for FC Barcelona as the club celebrated its centenary, Kluivert was assigned the number 9 jersey, confirming his role as the primary striker. The season began with the battle for the Supercopa de España against the Copa del Rey winners, Valencia CF. Kluivert scored twice, but it wasn’t enough for the victory. He found the back of the net fifteen times in the league and also provided twelve assists. He achieved this in nine fewer matches than the previous year, partly due to missing some games because of two red cards he received during the season. After a two-year absence, he returned to the Champions League, making his mark with seven goals. In a memorable moment, he controlled a long pass from the defense with his right foot, then lobbed the ball with his left foot over the goalkeeper from behind his standing leg in a match against FC Porto. Barça eventually reached the semi-finals, including a 5-1 victory over Chelsea FC. However, the journey ended there for FC Barcelona, which finished in second place in the league and went home empty-handed. Manager Van Gaal and president Josep Lluís Núñez departed. Under the leadership of the new president, Joan Gaspart, the club experienced a sharp decline both in terms of sporting performance and finances.
In his third season, Kluivert scored a total of 25 goals, with eighteen in the league, two in the Copa del Rey, and five in European competitions. This marked the highest goal tally in his career. Under the guidance of the new manager, Llorenç Serra Ferrer, a more defensive playing system was introduced, often placing Kluivert as the sole forward up front. With the departure of Luís Figo, one of the most effective playmakers had also left the team. Additionally, his attacking partner Rivaldo increasingly prioritized his own performance over the team’s success and often overlooked Kluivert and other teammates. Despite Kluivert scoring crucial goals, the team finished fourth in the league. In the Champions League, they were eliminated in a group that included Leeds United, Beşiktaş JK, and AC Milan, subsequently entering the UEFA Cup competition. In this tournament, Barcelona managed to defeat Celta de Vigo, partly thanks to two goals from Kluivert, leading them to the semi-finals. However, in the return leg, Kluivert made a mistake by committing a handball foul during a match against Liverpool FC. The resulting penalty was converted into the winning goal. Nevertheless, Barcelona decided to retain their striker. After challenging negotiations and ongoing rumors about a potential departure from Camp Nou, Kluivert extended his contract in July 2001. This new agreement would keep him at the club until mid-2006.
For Kluivert personally, the 2001/02 season was highly productive, with eighteen goals in the league and seven goals in European competitions. Only Diego Tristán outscored him on the Spanish top scorer list for the Trofeo Pichichi. In the year 2002, he was the top scorer in Spain. During this year, France Football magazine named Kluivert the best forward in European football. His effectiveness was crucial given the competition within the team.
Barcelona had made a million-dollar signing in Javier Saviola, who was determined to play at any cost. Due to injuries and a drop in form from Rivaldo, Kluivert and the young Argentine often formed an attacking partnership, with Rivaldo fading into the background and eventually departing. Kluivert and Saviola, however, proved to be a successful duo. Coach Carles Rexach frequently deployed Kluivert as the playmaker behind Saviola. Together, they scored over fifty goals in their first season. Kluivert netted four times against CD Tenerife, surpassing the milestone of one hundred league goals.
Despite Kluivert’s impressive performances, the club couldn’t keep pace with its top scorer’s success. FC Barcelona finished fourth in the league once again. In the Champions League, there were moments when it seemed Barcelona might face challenges. In the preliminary rounds, Wisła Kraków almost eliminated FC Barcelona from the main tournament. However, the Blaugranas ultimately secured a place in the first group stage. They finished the second group stage as winners, with Kluivert contributing, including his late equalizer against AS Roma. While they progressed to the quarterfinals, FC Barcelona was eventually knocked out by arch-rivals Real Madrid.
The Catalan crisis continued into the following season, with the return of Van Gaal as the coach. In the Champions League (with Kluivert scoring five goals), Barcelona had a strong start by advancing through the group stage without dropping any points. They also progressed through the second group stage. However, their journey was halted in the quarterfinals by Juventus. In the league, the performance was less impressive. Kluivert scored sixteen goals, but Barcelona finished in sixth place, a disappointing result that led to the dismissal of Van Gaal once again. During an away match against Real Mallorca, Kluivert responded to ongoing racist chants from the crowd with two Black Power salutes and three goals. For the second goal, he controlled the ball with his left foot after setting up a combination play himself, then cheekily chipped the ball past goalkeeper Leonardo Franco via a bounce off the ground. Against Real Sociedad, Kluivert received the ball about 25 meters from the goal with his chest, his back to the goal. He then turned and fired a left-footed shot on target. The ball hit the post, ricocheted off Sander Westerveld’s shoulder, and found the back of the net.
The 2003/04 season took an unpleasant turn for the striker. After the reign of Gaspart, the new board had to address the club’s enormous debts and get the team back on track. Frank Rijkaard was appointed as the new coach, but the striker couldn’t establish himself against his former teammate, who often deployed him as a shadow striker. He scored eight league goals (from eleven starts and ten substitute appearances) and two goals in the UEFA Cup in three matches. Additionally, he suffered a severe knee injury following a hard foul by Gabriel Milito. This resulted in permanent cartilage damage and months of rehabilitation. Ironically, it was during this recovery period that FC Barcelona started to perform better. Upon his return, Kluivert couldn’t regain a place in the starting lineup, although he did score the equalizer against Real Madrid as a substitute. The crowd turned against Kluivert and wanted him, along with the other Dutch players, to leave. They expressed their displeasure with him by booing and displaying banners against him. The new board also wanted him gone, as his six million euro salary was a heavy burden on the budget. At the request of the board, the Dutchman agreed to a salary cut, but he was eventually placed on the transfer list. The squad underwent a thorough renovation, and many players, including Kluivert, had to depart. Through a clause, his transfer fee was already significantly limited to 1.8 million euros, which is why FC Barcelona decided not to demand a transfer fee. The striker left the Catalan capital as the club’s all-time leading goalscorer.