Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Another big Belgian transfer in the summer of 1975 was also both lucky and unlucky: Paul van Himst, arguably the best ever Belgian player, quite Anderlecht and moved to the smaller neighbours RWD Molenbeek. It was logical move – van Himst was approaching the end of his playing days and was no longer up to the ambitions of Anderlecht. After so many years of loyalty, his departure was no big deal. RWD Molenbeek evidently benefited from the aging star – he brought class and preserved the unexpected strong position of the club: after winning the championship, RWD Molenbeek finished 3rd in 1975-76. Van Himst’s contribution was valuable, no doubt, but it was more than ironic that his former club, Anderlecht, achieved its biggest international success to date without him. Bad luck, one may argue… may be not so bad… well, for RWD Molenbeek it was fine surely.
Top, left to right: De Bree, Boskamp, Wissmann, Martens, Desanghere, Week, Lafont, Bjerre, Van Himst, Polleunis, LĂ©onard
Bottom: Schouppe, Veenstra, Bloemberg, Koens, Nielsen, Wellens, Dumon, Teugels
Paul van Himst was still finishing strong with his new jersey, but what about his former colours? Anderlecht remained one of the two best Belgian clubs as ever. Finished second, 4 points behind the champions – for ambitious club, may be the season was not perfect. But Anderlecht confidently won the Belgian Cup, beating Lierse 4-0 at the final. The domestic Cup was followed by winning another, much more valuable Cup – the European Cup Winners Cup, about which – later. At the end, it was very successful season for Anderlecht and the championship silver was easily forgivable: the boys were strong!

Familiar Cup winners: Standing, from left: Lomme, Van Binst, Broos, Dockx, Ruiter, Thissen.
Bottom: Coeck, Ressel, Van der Elst, Rensenbrink, Vercauteren.
Well, without Van Himst, Anderlecht was going more Dutch: Hans Croon was coaching them this year, and he used 5 compatriots. The 6th foreign player was Dane – Torsten-Frank Andersen, who was generally a reserve. The imports from Holland were impressive, though: Rob Rensenbrink and Jan Ruiter were already old hands in Belgium and had splendid season. Rensenbrink was true mega-star ever since his fantastic performance at the 1974 World Cup. Ruiter got some recognition as well – he was included in the Dutch national team for the 1976 European Championship finals. Ruiter played only one match for Holland and in my opinion he deserved much more, but never mind. Ronny van Poucke was not famous and generally a reserve, but in the summer of 1975 two speacial players arrived – Peter Ressel and Arie Haan. Ressel rarely played for Dutch national team, but he came from Feyenoord, winning the UEFA Cup in 1974. Arie Haan of the great Ajax does not need any introduction. The new players brought quality and experience, making the new Anderlecht world class team. Add the Belgian national team regulars Van Binst, Broos, Dockx, and Thissen. And don’t forget the young sensations Coeck, Van der Elst and Vercauteren. So much talent… add aging Belgian player Erwin van den Daele and the young goalkeeper, who was to play for Belgium in the future, Jacky Munaron – it was difficult to get reserve spot in this squad, let alone regular place. Hans Croon was not exactly among the top coaches of the period, but he was Dutch, which already automatically ment ‘total football’. The style was well preserved South of Holland, with one of the original ‘priests’ – Haan – leading the ceremony. Rensenbrink was perhaps the bigger name by now, but Arie Haan deserves a special note: perhaps he was the best example of total football. However nominal, posts are preserved in total football – Haan was defensive midfielder in Ajax. In 1974 he played central defender for Holland. And now he was a playmaker. Changing positions was effortless for him and more – he excelled no matter what he was asked to play. This new role was not the final one either – Haan was still to play new positions in the future. Going Dutch, mastering total football – Anderlecht were in good health indeed. And, at least on the top of pyramid, Belgian football seemingly was getting better. Slightly better than Holland this year.