« Standard de Liège, is my favorite club, and it has always defended and supported me throughout. Even in 1994 when I quit the national team. And the fans have been extraordinary with me throughout my career… »
– Marc Wilmots
Marc Wilmots: The Fury of the Bull
When the football fairies rested on the cradle of little Marc Wilmots in the hospital of Jodoigne on 22nd of February 1969, they did not forget to tick the boxes “character and self-sacrifice” for the youngest of this Walloon farming family. From the age of eleven Marc joins the local club, Sporting Club Jodoignois, where he feels comfortable in the opposite box and can quickly make a difference physically.
Young Professional Footballer of the Year in 1990
At the age of 16 he makes his debut for Sint-Truiden, active in the second division. With his attacking partner Stef Agten, he is one of the drivers behind the title in 1987 for the Canaries with the accompanying promotion to the first division, and he collects an individual award as top scorer. He then joins the best Belgian club at that moment, K.V. Mechelen, chaired by John Cordier, and coached by Aad De Mos. The Dutchman can rely on Preud’homme, Clijsters, Koeman, Ohana, Den Boer, Rutjes and Emmers, and had previously won the Cup of the Cup winners (1:0 against Ajax in Strasbourg, and the last Belgian winner of a European title).
At the age of just 19, the “Bull from Dongelberg” discovered the highest level (29 matches, 4 goals) in a team that logically wins the Belgian championship, with Wilmots again receiving an individual prize as best Young Professional Footballer of the Year.
The following season, Malinwa surprised the country with a heroic quarter-final in the Champions League against the great AC Milan of the Dutch trio Gullit, Van Basten and Rijkaard. A 0-0 at the Heysel followed by a 0-0 at San Siro with Michel Preud’homme in exceptional form and who dragged his team – now reinforced with Philippe Albert and Johnny Bosman under… Fi Van Hoof – to extra time.
The decision happens at the start of the second half when Tassotti, offside, escapes the vigilance of the German referee trio to serve Marco Van Basten. Mechelen, after the exclusion of Lei Clijsters at the end of regular time with ten, is hanging in the ropes. It’s no use talking about a scandal anymore… The name of the referee? Kurt Röthlisberger who will unfortunately encounter the Red Devils – again with Wilmots – on their way to the knockout phase of the 1994 World Cup in the United States with a refused penalty on Josip Weber.
But the time has come for the “big decision” in his career for “Willie” and his family. The transfer to Standard was inevitable for Marc Wilmots. With an expected transfer fee of 75 million BEF, half of which goes to the Wilmots family, Wilmots’ father showed himself to be an extremely good negotiator. André Duchêne gives in and ‘offers’ the supporters with the Walloon striker a symbolic transfer. Wilmots would sum up his five years at Sclessin with 67 goals in 136 league appearances, qualifying for European football in his first season.
Great day: 6 goals in 48 minutes
During the 1992/1993 season, at the beginning of winter, Standard is in the race for the double. The team then coached by Arie Haan produced arguably the best football of the past thirty years. But in two stages, which could be described as unfair, the beautiful machine comes to a halt.
First in the 16th final of the UEFA Cup against Auxerre on 24 November. The players deliver the ultimate performance for more than an hour. A 2-0 lead is therefore not at all surprising or unjustified. Guy Roux himself still doesn’t know how, in a crazy last fifteen minutes, he came out of hell with a very happy 2-2 final score.
In the league, the arrival of Anderlecht to Sclessin on November 29 is a real top game. The team from Liège dominates the game, but only manages to score once. On an attempt to score by the Rouches, goalie Peter Maes, author of four or five decisive interventions, comes out of his rectangle and pops the ball randomly forward to ultimately find Danny Boffin, who is strangely alone on the right side of the Liège rectangle to serve Vossen who gives Bodart no chance.
And finally, on December 8, in the Abbé-Deschamps stadium, the European adventure came to an end after a long resistance from the Liège corner – it took until the 70th minute before French striker Dutuel outwitted Gilbert Bodart, ten minutes after the exclusion of Regis Genaux. Marc Wilmots would only save the honour at the end of the game (87th minute) (2-1) against the French who were eventually only stopped in the semi-final against Borussia Dortmund.
On April 30, Sclessin witnesses a crazy 8-4 against Ghent… with six goals from Marc Wilmots in the 6th (1-0), 36th (3-1), 39th (4-1), 42nd (5-1 ), 46th (6-1) and 55th minute (7-2). The other (forgotten) goalscorers of the day: Henk Vos (12th, 2-0) and Roberto Bisconti (85th, 8-4). « You don’t really realize it when you’re on the pitch. You see the ball, and you just want to score. Now scoring a hat-trick in 6 minutes is very pleasant… » Standard eventually finishes as runner-up, 13 points (!) from Anderlecht (58 points).
Fortunately, the Belgian FA Cup finally gave the people of Liège something the smile for. After failing three times in the final (1984 against Ghent, in 1988 and 1989 against Anderlecht), Standard is back with a win for the first time since 1981 (ed. a brilliant 4-0 against Lokeren with the armada of Ernst Happel).
The opponent? Charleroi, which had just beaten Anderlecht three times in ten days (1-2 and 3-2 in the cup; 1-2 in the league) and are about to play the second final in their history, after losing in 1979 from Beveren.
The place? The Vanden Stock stadium, the stadium of the ‘enemy’. On June 6, it’s baking in Brussels. The fire brigade has to intervene to water the public with their pumps, the match ball is dropped by… helicopter by a certain Jean-Michel Saive, new vice world champion in table tennis.
The game? A bitter, tense battle. Because while Charleroi starts as favorite after their great performances in the lead up to the final, it is Standard that delivers a performance of the big days. Arie Haan starts with Bodart; Genaux, Dinga, Rednic, Cruz, Hellers, Pister, Léonard, Van Rooy, Wilmots and Vos. The same Vos (55th) and Léonard (63rd) seal the fate of the race. Charleroi – even into the 21st century – is still chasing its first trophy in its history whilst the Fiery City of Liège is on fire.
« It has been ten years since the club won something.» Wilmots confides to the journalists. « After the Affair, there were years lost chasing a prize so that now we can finally get rid of that frustration. Something always went wrong in the journey to new successes. » The return to Liège will be unforgettable: « Some have not seen their bed for three days. We even took a helicopter ride through the city…»
The cup is the highlight under the management of directors Wauters-Duchêne. Torpedoed by the sporting suicide of Roger Petit and his famous notebooks, the club is on the brink of collapse, both sportingly and economically. The club managed to invest in mortar by renovating the main stand 1 (1985), stand 2 (1992) and stand 3 (1999) in three phases to the current configuration of approximately 30,000 seats.
Youngsters are given their chance and Genaux, Léonard, Goossens, Bisconti and Ernst are asked immediately to take up their responsibilities alongside the club’s loyal lieutenants Gilbert Bodart and Guy Hellers. With reinforcements such as Cruz, Van Rooy, Demol, Pister and Rednic, the team finds its color back on the field. But, it lacks regularity. Capable of the finest sporting achievements, but also of historic humiliations such as the 0-7 against Arsenal, barely five months after the cup win.
The arrival of Robert Waseige rekindles the race for hope. Dressed in green, the team disproves all predictions and battles for the title in Anderlecht until the 32nd game day. That Sunday, April 30, 1995, the Rouches went to Brussels with one point in hand. The screenplay? Cruel, unfair and still controversial with in order: the goal of Degryse, the exclusion of Filip De Wilde after the tackle on Dinga, the equalizer of Michael Goossens and the elbow of Graeme Rutjes at the end of the first half. With 11 against 10 Standard could be satisfied with a draw. Marc Wilmots makes it 2-2 but the linesman’s flag goes up very (too?) quickly. Referee Frans Van den Wijngaert later states: « Looking back at the images, the goal was probably justified, but I fully trusted my linesman… »
The wait for the fans would be very long. It will be another thirteen long years before the title of Belgian champion intoxicates Sclessin again. Marc Wilmots analyzes the reasons with his usual sobriety: « To win the title you have to be consistent, of course, but you also have to win a game against a top team, at least once. We didn’t manage to win in the first leg, while we were beaten in Bruges.»
A historic season that finally ends with the individual title of top scorer for Australian Aurélio Vidmar with 22 goals. The seventh Standardman after Lucien Fabry (28 goals in 1926/27), Jean Mathonet (26 goals in 1955/56), Roger Claessen (20 goals in 1967/68), Antal Nagy (20 goals in 1968/69), Erwin Kostedde (26 goals in 1970/71) and Harald Nickel (22 goals in 1977/78). But to this day, the Australian kangaroo still remains the… final winner of that individual trophy!
The Legend of “The Fighting Pig”
Despite a season with 14 goals in the league, Wilmots believes the time has come to to look elsewhere. The appeal of the Bundesliga is overwhelming and eventually draws him to Schalke 04. A (small) check for BF 120 million and the man from Jodoigne arrives in Gelsenkirchen to become an eternal legend from his first season onwards. It is a Marc Wilmots goal that, among other things, ensures that Schalke wins the UEFA Cup, the first and only European trophy in their history.
In the first leg of the final, it was Wilmots who blew up the Inter Milan fortress with a formidable kick from 25 meters that left Gianluigi Pagliuca nailed to the ground. On the return to Meazza, Schalke’s defense was heroic until the 88th minute. 1-0 and extra time in which the Germans are attributed little chance against 81,500 spectators, including however … 20,000 Germans!
But the German wall holds up: « With an average age of 30, the experience was on our side. Plus the small obligatory luck factor. It was written that I would have to kick the last penalty… » And so Wilmots gets his nickname “Kampfschwein” (“fighting pig”) which is still associated with him in the Ruhr region.
Six seasons of shared happiness (1996-2000 followed by 2001-2003) with a year of infidelity in between with Girondins de Bordeaux, scoring 10 goals in 35 games in the 2000/2001 season. For Wilmots it was also love at first sight with the beautiful wine region, and to this day he regularly travels there in search of peace and quiet.
A sporting career full of panache and energy marked by the incredible sequence of operations: meniscus, knees, ligaments, shoulder, foot and the fifteenth and most recently, the Achilles tendon this spring while playing tennis with his children!
And to all this we must of course add the national team where Guy Thys offers him his first selection on May 26, 1990 against Romania (2-2) and takes him to the 1990 World Cup in Italy where he stays on the bench during the entire tournament where David Platt sends the Red Devils home in the 120th minute. A relationship with the Devils that is sometimes delicate, sometimes somewhat heated and often met with incomprehension when the national team naturalizes Weber, Strupar, Vidovic or Luis Oliveira.
At the 1994 World Cup, Paul Van Himst offered him his chance in the third qualifier against Saudi Arabia. Due to a combination of circumstances, we especially remember the defeat (0-1 after an incredible solo by Al Owairan) which then sends the national team to Chicago for an explosive eighth final against the German Mansschaft which we will lose in bizarre refereeing circumstances. Then already…
Humiliated and upset, Wilmots then steps away from the national team to devote himself fully to… Standard, which made him feel good. The anger will last two and a half years, the moment that Wilfried Van Moer, Van Himst’s successor, was able to convince him to return. However, a 0-3 loss would quickly prove fatal to the Little General, after which he would be replaced by Georges Leekens. For Marc, the chapter of the Red Devils eventually becomes one with 28 goals in 70 selections, with the apotheosis of the 2002 World Cup where the Jamaican referee Prendergast denies the rightful 1-0 via Wilmots in order to let the Brazilians qualify and would eventually win it for the fifth time.
« It was Robert Waseige who convinced me to go to Japan. After five weeks without competition, he took me to Prague for the decisive game in the Czech Republic. We have a one goal lead, I come in with half an hour to go and score the 0-1 on penalty. That same evening we finalized our pact. He takes me along but gives me carte blanche to properly prepare. At 33 years of age, this is my greatest satisfaction. At that time, I had already passed through the operating room thirteen times. I went to the World Cup with a clear mind. I knew it was over after that. The last game to qualify us against Russia was just perfect. The mood was fantastic, the press critics united us like never before. Finishing my international career with the Devils in this way remains brilliant, although of course we will never know if we could have held on to this 1-0 against Brazil… »
In addition, the captain of the Devils gets a place in the All-Star XI of the 2002 World Cup, the prize for National Sports Merit and from the undoubtedly uncomfortable FIFA, the Fairplay prize.
To this wave of popular recognition, he responded positively to the call from his friend Louis Michel to stand as a candidate in the national elections and, under the banner of the MR, become a senator.
The Devils’ best coach for Martinez
He then begins his first experience as a coach – he graduated from the prestigious school in Cologne – at Schalke 04, where his team is going through a bad period. Four defeats in eight games put an end to his position at his club and that of his friend Rudi Assauer, Gelsenkirchen’s all-powerful manager with the big cigar.
In 2004 he tried again, this time at Sint-Truiden, but without success. With 13 defeats in 24 matches, this adventure also comes to an end.
In the summer of 2005, he ended his political mandate because he felt he had too little freedom of movement to make an impact to justify his salary. The Senate denies the request because the responsibility and dignity of general elections goes beyond a salary issue. True to his beliefs, he will therefore continue to receive a salary … which he will distribute to charities.
On September 20, 2009 Marc is announced as an assistant to the Dutchman Dick Advocaat with the Red Devils. Six months later, however, the Dutchman leaves the national team in exchange for Russian rubles. The Belgian Federation initially trusts that Georges Leekens would become head coach with Willie by his side. But history repeats itself and the Football Association sees Leekens join Club Bruges head over heels.
Wilmots then becomes national coach permanently and in one year the Devils change level, become joyous, ambitious and celebrate a qualification for the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, twelve years after the edition in Japan and South Korea. The elimination in the quarter-finals by Argentina (0-1) is just a snag in the contract of trust between him and Belgian football. He is credited with, and we quote a comment from the time: “he has reunited the country and given soul to the team…”
It was at that point the likes of Hazard, De Bruyne and Courtois made their breakthrough. A year later, the Red Devils were named “Number 1 in the official FIFA rankings“. Best nation in the world. Well, in 2021 we still know that this guarantees nothing…
Euro 2016 in France raises high expectations. Belgium can claim a spot as favorite with its brand new status. A defeat against Italy (0-2), followed by convincing successes against Ireland, Sweden and Hungary brings the Belgians to the quarter-finals against Wales. Naingollan’s quick goal puts the devils in orbit, but the defense quickly bursts with three goals and an elimination – not nearly as painful as the 2018 World Cup semi-final in Russia against France that many press observers and Dutch-speaking journalists forget that the team was without Kompany, Engels, Lombaerts and Boyata.
A public lynching, a turnaround at the Belgian Football Association – Wilmots then presented the best stats as a coach with the Devils with 66.67% victories – and Wilmots needs to make way for Roberto Martinez, a Spanish coach who didn’t make in England.
Marc Wilmots quickly scrambles back, heads to the Ivory Coast on April 1, 2017, where a non-qualification for the 2018 World Cup in Russia logically proves fatal.
In May 2019 we find him in … Iran where he slams the door after six months for non-fulfillment of contractual obligations while the World Cup in Qatar in 2022 is approaching. FIFA awarded him 6 million euros in damages.
A new chapter will be written this fall when Wilmots is appointed as coach of Raja Club Atletic Casablanca, the most popular club in Africa according to the Spanish newspaper Marca. A gigantic challenge for the Red Devil – accompanied by Luigi Pieroni and Patrick De Wilde – which arouses the mistrust of local journalists with especially the highest salary of all managers in the competition (40,000 dollars a month) as a stumbling block: « There is a real long-term project. I want to be part of the DNA of the club with a fast and fluid game…» A club where, Jean Thissen in 1994 and Walter Meeuws in 2002, already passed two former Standardmen.
Today he can look back on his career: « I have no regrets. I would do everything exactly the same way. I have always been in control of my choices, which have always been aligned with my mentality and my sporting qualities. I was predicted to be in big trouble when I arrived in Schalke and the first year we won the UEFA Cup. I always take advantage of the lows to climb even higher… » Gone are the days when we saw Willie on his tractor on the family farm in Dongelberg and when he told us to “to lend his father a hand” between two pre- training sessions.”
Married to lawyer Katrien Lambeets, daughter of the former STVV chairman, since June 1996, Marc is the happy father of two professional football players (Marten and Reno) and a daughter (Athena-Lena).
(c) Christian Raspiller – December 2021
Date of Birth: 22 February 1969, in Lathuy
Affiliated at Standard: 1 July 1991 – 25 June 1976
Trophies with Standard: 1x Belgian FA Cup (1993)
International games / goals : 70 / 29
1979 – 1983
1983 – 1987
R.S.C. Jodoignois (199)
K. Sint-Truidense V.V. (373)
1987 – 1988
1988 – 1991
1991 – 1996
1996 – 2000
2000 – 2001
2001 – 2003
K.V. Mechelen (25)
Royal Standard de Liège (16)
F.C. Gelsenkirchen Schalke 04 (GER)
Girondins de Bordeaux (FRA)
F.C. Gelsenkirchen Schalke 04 (GER)
Belgian F.A. Cup
Belgian League Cup
Belgian F.A. Cup
Belgian League Cup