He won the European Cup 1, the World Cup, the UEFA Cup, three league titles and played two World Cup finals. And yet Wim Jansen, who died this Tuesday at the age of 75, was not admired by the general public as much as Feyenoord’s other club icons Coen Moulijn and Willem van Hanegem. A matter of charisma and/or brutality.
Wimpie (1.65 meters) Jansen played for almost a quarter of a century, between 1956 and 1980, in the red and white of Feyenoord. He then played football with the Washington Diplomats, where he formed a lifelong friendship with teammate Johan Cruijff. He advised him in the autumn of 1980 – when Feyenoord hesitated with an offer – to play for Ajax. A mortal sin according to the Rotterdam legion.
Jansen knew. He happened to make his debut for Ajax in the lion’s den and was hit in the eye from the stands by a well-aimed snowball. “We were clearly after him,” acknowledged Feyenoord player André Stafleu. “And the audience loved it.” He had survived dozens of sliding and tackles. The snowball, thrown by a 14-year-old boy, was too much of a good thing.
Visibly touched, Jansen left the field, received by assistant coach Bobby Haarms. “It was terrible to see him so affected. Experiencing something like this in your own home, you wouldn’t wish that on anyone,” said this one Mister Ajax after.
Although not a folk hero, the born and raised Rotterdammer Jansen was for insiders Mister Feyenoord. As an only child, he grew up – just like his idol Moulijn – in the Bloklandstraat in the Oude Noorden. Whispered by Moulijn, almost ten years his senior, he was lured to South. On his bicycle he rode fourteen kilometers back and forth to De Kuip every day. On the way to the world top.
The glory years of Dutch football had arrived at the end of the 1960s – with successes for Ajax, Feyenoord and Orange. Jansen was the personification of the typical Dutch circulation football. He formed a complementary midfield with Franz Hasil and bosom friend Van Hanegem. The same story in the Dutch national team – with Ajax player Johan Neeskens taking the place of Austrian Hasil. Jansen was the porter, the hole filler, the jack of all trades. Always choosing the right position. Functional technology, not a ball magician. The ideal team player.
Wim saw the holes
Highlights were his contributions to the European Cup victory in May 1970, followed by the Club World Cup in September. Captain Rinus Israel was full of praise for his teammate at the presentation of Jansen’s biography in the autumn of 2021. “Wim saw the holes. He knew where loss of the ball would occur. He was always in the right place. He saw the football great.”
In 1974 they won the UEFA Cup together with Feyenoord, then an exodus followed and Jansen was the only top player left. The water carrier took on the role of playmaker. Feyenoord dropped back to the European middle bracket.
Most memorable in his international career (65 caps) were the lost World Cup finals of 1974 and 1978. In West Germany he was the one who – after all, gap filler – brought down Bernd Hölzenbein after Arie Haan ran away from cover. Schwalbe, shouted millions of Dutch people in the living room. Penalty, the referee decided. After the 1-1 it also became 2-1 and the Netherlands was richer by football trauma.
Even during his coaching career, Jansen preferred not to come to the fore. No boasting, no long raincoat, no onliners. “If you’re serious, they think you’re boring,” he stated in his biography. It got the appropriate title Mastermind. “He was breathing football, but he was breathing so softly that the outside world couldn’t hear it,” noted biographer/sports journalist Yoeri van den Busken.
“Football is simple, but the most difficult thing there is is simple football”, Jansen wrote ‘Cruijffiaans’ in the book. “Wim is one of only four men in the world worth listening to when they talk about football,” said Cruyff in turn. Jansen was his hard drive. He noted and studied everything after Cruijff had given free rein to his thoughts.
Eye for young talent
In 1990, Jansen became head coach of Feyenoord, which was in decline sportingly and financially disastrous. Empty stands and an empty wallet meant a good entry point – it couldn’t get any worse. It was to his credit that Feyenoord returned to the national top with two cup victories. He had a good eye for youthful talent, the Varkenoord training complex was his second home. “Your education is your life insurance,” he said in his biography.
In 1992 Jansen, now also technical director, made way for his old buddy Van Hanegem as head coach. He helped Feyenoord to its first national title in nine years in 1993. below The Curve Fighting football was the motto, much to the chagrin of his namesake, who, even as a player, never dealt a death kick. Jansen was not informed in advance by chairman Jorien van den Herik about Van Hanegem’s contract extension – it was the reason for his unexpected departure.
Jansen ‘fled’ to Saudi Arabia as an assistant to national coach Leo Beenhakker. After wandering in Scotland (he won the cup and the national title with Celtic) and Japan (language and therefore communication problems), he returned to Feyenoord in 2005. First as technical director and later as youth and assistant coach. When head coach Gertjan Verbeek was fired in 2009, he showed solidarity and also resigned.
In 2011, he secretly returned to Varkenoord, as a sounding board for the youth. He rarely appeared in the public eye, having led a secluded life with his wife Coby since his Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
Even about the low point in his long football career – the snowball in the Kuip – Wim Jansen has never spoken negatively to the outside world. “I underestimated the Ajax hatred among the Feyenoord fans”, he showed guilt in his biography.