« He was absolutely essential to our team. Physically, he covered an impressive number of kilometers, and he improved the performance of all his teammates.»
– Léon Semmeling
A giant from a dwarf country on a planetary scale.
Such was the sporting destiny of Louis Pilot (1940-2016).
Luxembourg, today ranked the 179th nation in area (2,586 km2) and 166th in population (625,000 inhabitants) for a world benchmark of 224 countries can pride itself on being a financial casino in the center of Europe. « Wanting to be a professional sportsman in Luxembourg, you really need to be motivated …» , often laughs Guy Hellers, the former legendary Rouche. « So in our country, there are so many educational, financial, economic and / or social opportunities, that professional sport doesn’t appeal to our younger athletes who prefer to quickly ensure their financial future …»
In terms of exploration, Louis Pilot was an adventurer in moving in 1960 at the age of 20, to Sclessin in a straight line from his hometown and his training club, Fola Esch-sur-Alzette. In ten years, the Luxemburger born on November 11, 1940 was going to forge one of the most beautiful sporting records in the history of the Reds with four Belgian league titles (1963, 1969, 1970, 1971), two Belgian FA Cups (1966 and 1967 ) and an amazing record in European games (semi-final of the Cup Winners Cup 1966, quarter-final of the same Cup in 1968 after a test match against AC Milan and the success against Real Madrid in the European Cup of Champion Clubs 1969).
« When he came to Standard, he was preceded by a good reputation as an efficient player » recalls Léon Semmeling. It was Michel Pavic however who had the idea of pulling him back in a more defensive role. First as a left half then finally as a defensive midfielder where he revealed himself completely. It was on the 7th of January 1962 that he made his debut against FC Bruges. From the following season onwards, he would become an indisputable regular and later team captain. « He was really an essential player for us » insists “Ptit Léon”. « Physically, he covered an impressive number of kilometers, and more than anything he improved the performance of all the teammates around him. If he had been Belgian, he would have played with the Red Devils and would have been with us at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. »
Louis was the first Luxemburger who would pave the way for the Erwin Kuffers, Paul Phillip – who would become president of the football federation -, Guy Hellers, Jeff Saibene, Stéphane Gillet, Daniel Huss, and René Peters in 2000. Since the beginning of the century , the source dried up with only Anthony Moris, who was still Belgian when he moved to Sclessin. The reason is mainly due to a change in strategy of the Luxembourg Football Federation, under the impetus among others of Guy Hellers then coach and manager of the national teams. They signed collaboration contracts with German and French clubs in a 50 km radius around Luxembourg in order to keep the family environment for these young players.
« It was Louis who, at 17, offered me my first selection for the national team », recalls Guy Hellers, while I was still at FC Metz. He was the one who took me to a test at Standard. He knew me from the youth teams and kept telling me that Standard was the perfect club for me. He was obviously not mistaken. He was a father to me. I listened to him and followed his advice. He told me to get married as quickly as possible because professional footballers are an easy prey for women. I even listened to that part of the advise (laughs) …»
But Luxembourg was and remains a land of champions with cyclists Charly Gaul, Kim Kirchen, Frank and Andy Schleck or Bob Jungels, the skier of Austrian origin Marc Girardelli and closer to us Gilles Muller, the tennis player. Football is no exception with Robby Langers, Jeff Strasser and Nico Braun. And obviously our very own Louis Pilot with two Luxemburgish ‘Golden Boots’ (1968 and 1969), his four titles of ‘Luxembourg player of the year’ (1966, 1970, 1971 and 1972) and the title of ‘Golden Player’ awarded by UEFA in November 2003 for the 50th anniversary of the European federation – alongside Bobby Moore (Eng), Fritz Walter (Ger), Paul Van Himst (Bel), Alfredi Di Stefano (Spa), Just Fountain (Fra), Ferenc Puskas (Hun), the former Asgeir Sirguvinsson (Isl), Johan Cruyff (Hol), Zoff (Ita), Eusebio (Por) and Yachine (Rus).
Without forgetting his invitation for the historic match played on January 3, 1973 marking the entry of Great Britain, Ireland and Denmark into the European Common Market then composed of the Benelux, France, Italy and Germany. « Helmut Schön, the German coach relied very much on his German Mannschaft » recalls Christian Piot, Golden Boot winner and then at the top of his career. « There was Beckenbauer, Müller, Vogts, Netzer, the Dutch Neeskens, Krol, Suurbier and Van Haneghem, the French Trésor plus Italian Dino Zoff, our Louis and me …» In the end the game ended 2-0 for the new Europeans (with Bobby Charlton who had his last appearance at Wembley, Bobby Moore, the captain of the 1966 world champions, Hunter, Hughes, Bell, the Scottish Lorimer, the Irish Jennings and Johnny Giles or the Danes Hansen and JS Olsen).
« The only problem is that I don’t know why, Schön forgot to bring in our Louis. At the banquet, he asked her for explanations. Correctly, without raising my voice but it was in German and I didn’t understand anything (laughs) … « Even at the time, the label of gentleman already stuck to the skin of our main man.
One number to sum it all up: 0. Zero. Nada. Niente. No. Nothing. Or simply the number of yellow (and obviously red) cards collected by our man who, as a lock before his defense, was nevertheless at the heart of the debates. With 342 official Standard matches (including 270 in the league and 36 in the European Cup) between 1962 and 1972 and a good hundred more for the following three seasons at Antwerp (twice runner-up and finalist in the Cup) to finish at Racing Jet Bruxelles in division 3 as a player-manager.
« When he made a strong challenge, he used to pick up his opponent and say “Please forgive me”, loud enough for the referee to hear it. He was a rough player as it was demanded by his Standard manager Mr. Pavic who put together the iron defense with Piot, Beurlet, Jeck, Dewalque and Thissen). But more than anything, you shouldn’t touch one of his teammates, or he would settle the score later in the game (laughs) … «
His hour of glory would come one evening in the autumn of 1969 at the Chamartin stadium of Real Madrid where, with an improbable shot from 30 meters, he opened the scoring in the 8th minute and built a historic success (2-3 for confirm 1-0 outward) for the Reds « Look at the images of the time, he first loses the ball by failing to control, then he stumbles, shoots and finally goalkeeper Junquera transforms the ball into his own net (laughs) …»
With the national team he played 50 selections and scored 7 goals between 1959 and 1977. Above all, he participated in the most resounding feat in his history by winning from the Dutch in the WC Qualifications in 1964 (1-1 followed by a 2-1 win) before failing in the quarterfinals against Denmark after a… test match (3-3, 2-2 and 0-1) .
After his retirement, he would coach the national team between 1978 and 1984, followed by a compulsory passage at Standard in the very tumultuous year after Waterschei (1984/1985) to finally finish in Ettelbrück (1985 -1988 and 1990). « A humble, available, and generous guy who never hesitated to commit himself » said Paul Philipp to Christophe Nadin, the Luxembourg journalist. « He never acted as a star. We shared incredible moments on and off the pitch. Our friendship lasted a lifetime. One day after an international match we returned directly to Liège with his car. We were in a hurry and stopped along the road but Louis had left his driver’s door open. A truck went too close and ripped it off. We simply returned to Liège without the front left door as if nothing had happened. He was a gentleman! »
(c) Christian Raspiller – April 2020
Birth: 11 November 1940, in Esch-Uelzecht (Lux)
Deceased: 16 April 2016, in Senningen (Lux)
Affiliated at Standard : 25 June 1960 – 30 June 1972
Trophies with Standard: 4x Belgian League titles (1963, 1969, 1970, 1971), 2x Belgian FA Cups (1966, 1967)
International games / goals: 50 / 7
1948 – 1957
C.S. Fola Esch (LUX)
1957 – 1960
1960 – 1972
1972 – 1975
1975 – 1979
C.S. Fola Esch (LUX)
Royal Standard Club Liégeois
R. Antwerp F.C. (1)
Racing Jet Bruxelles (S.R.) (4549)
Belgian F.A. Cup
Belgian League Cup
Belgian F.A. Cup
Belgian League Cup