With his versatility, his intelligence of the game and his technical ability, Nico Dewalque is our very own Belgian Franz Beckenbauer.
– Belgian media
Nicolas Dewalque was one of the essential links in what was then called ‘the iron defense’ of Standard Liege between 1965 and 1975, a successfull decade for the club of Sclessin which accumulated the titles and a European fame which went far beyond the borders of Belgium. However, it is as a striker that the young player of Zichen-Zussen-Bolder, at a stone’s throw of the historic fort of Eben-Emael, landed at Sclessin just before turning 17.
« I started at the age of fifteen in the first team. At the time however, you had to be sixteen according to the regulations of the Belgian FA. So I took the identity card of my cousin who had the same name and first name. Everyone knew each other in the Geer Valley. I learned French on the streets and on the football pitches of the region and I quickly became a Liegeois at heart … »
Seventeen months later, he made his debut in the first team under the direction of Gusti Jordan, the in 1909 Austrian born trainer, naturalized French in 1938 (16 selections between 1938 and 1945) and died in 1990. A first appearance in a friendly game at UR Namur at the start of the winter before a sensational debut in the league, at Sclessin a week later, against Berchem: 2-1 with two goals signed … Dewalque in just ten minutes!
« I had replaced Roger Claessen. I was a striker at that time. Roger does not deserve the reputation that is attributed to him a little too dramatically by the way that. He loved life, he took advantage of it but on the pitch, he always gave himself 200%. Off the pitch, he was very sensitive soul. Whenever he paid me a visit at home, he never forgot to offer a little present for the kids. He was curious about everything. Traveling in Europe with Standard, he always had a lot of books with him … »
The season prior to Dewalque making his debut, was a very difficult one for the Rouches. They finished 3rd behind the arch rivals from Brussels and… Beringen. And to make things worse, they were kicked out of Europe by the modest Swedish Norrköpping ( 1-0, 0-2). A huge blow to Liège, its surroundings and even Belgium so high were the expectations when we remember that during their previous European campaign, two years earlier, Standard had only been stopped by Real Madrid in … the semifinals (!) of the C1 (0-4, 0-2).
For the young Dewalque, a wonderful debut that didn’t result in a fixed spot in the Standard attack. Gradually Nico would be turned into a defender under the leadership of Miroslav Pavic, who imposed an iron discipline that formed the basis for a successful period under his successor, René Hauss, with three titles in a row.
Gradually, Dewalque becomes not only an indisputable holding player but an important pawn on the Standard Liège chessboard thanks to his versatility, his intelligence of the game and his technical ability. Some observers compared him even to a certain Franz Beckenbauer who then guided the Bayern Munich and the German Mannschaft.
« I quickly felt like a pure Walloon. I prefer this warmer mentality to that of the North of the country. In Flanders, everything is more calculated, even in politics. In Liège, you can go wherever you want, you will never be judged and you will always be welcomed. In Flanders, you find yourself very quickly on your own… »
On the pitch, on the other hand, Nico is never on his own: « I was so well surrounded with Jean Nicolay and then Christian Piot in goal, Beurlet, Jeck and Thissen in defense and Louis Pilot as a buffer just in front of us. There was a lot of physical presence in that team…You could go to war with these guys, that’s for sure … » That many personalities in a team obviously came with some tension as well. As in the autumn of 1968 when Elland Road’s locker room still remembers Jean Nicolay’s anger over Dewalque after a guilty hesitation that allowed Leeds United, late in the game, to score and qualify for the next round (0-0, 2-3).
In the meanwhile, Nico had become a Red Devil – with a first selection on October 28, 1967 in Nantes (1-1) during qualifying rounds of the Italian Euro of 1968 – participating in World Cup Mexico ’70, in the qualifiers for the Euro ’72 (even though he attended the final game against Hungary from the stands at … Sclessin) and especially the two legendary 0-0 against the Netherlands of Johan Cruyff, future finalists of the German Weltcup 1974 (1- 2 against West Germany).
He won the 1966 Belgian Cup by scoring the only goal of the match against Anderlecht (1-0) before a second trophee the following year against FC Malines (3-1). In the league, the team overpowers the competition by signing their famous 1969 – 1970 – 1971 treble and twice reaching the quarterfinals of the European Champion Clubs’ Cup (Leeds United 0-1 and 0-1 in 1970; Inter Milan 0-1 and 2-1 in 1972).
His relationship with Roger Petit, then the club’s all-powerful general secretary and influential figure in the Belgian FA and UEFA, made him put on a rebel costume: « In 1968, Milan offered me a two years contract. They put on the table a million Belgian francs just so that I would not sign elsewhere for a year, while I only earned 1.2 million at Standard. Then Spain came around the corner with Palma de Mallorca, Real Madrid and Barcelona. I was offered twenty times what I was earning but the Iberian borders never opened during this pre-Bosman period… »
A reputation of a rebel he has always assumed. Even … today: « I always said what I thought. I have always been a good customer for journalists. I said to Petit: “No leader in the world will be able to silence me …”. It did not make friends and I sometimes paid a big prize for it… ” At the dawn of the 72/73 season, journalists even announced his departure: « I did not appreciate some statements after our lost final in the Cup against Anderlecht. I really wanted to leave at that time… but there was no offer. Petit was in a strong position (note: Bosman will not arrive until more than 23 years later), he never wanted to give me an increase. At the time, we were tied for life with a club. Finally, I negotiated that I would only participate in six training sessions a week in order to have another professional activity, working for my father’s company… »
Because his passion for football does not drag him beyond a mere physical investment: « I have never been a big fan of football but I loved playing and the smell of competition. When the coach gave me the order to watch the opposing striker whether it was Pele, Eusebio, Rivera, Müller, I sometimes had to ask to be told which player it was (laughs)… » After the golden years (three times champion then two Cup finals), the team goes through a more difficult period: « Despite the titles, I have always regretted the departure of Roger Claessen for Germany. With Roger, we could have won a European Cup. There was a good foundation, a solid house but we always missed a tile in attack… »
It was in 1976 that the adventure in red and white ended after 389 official matches – including 40 in the European Cup – and 26 goals. A chaotic end behind the scenes with no less than five coaches (Markovic, Bulatovic, Van der Hart, Leduc and Lempereur) between July 1973 and June 1976. Just before the arrival of a certain Robert Waseige (1976-1979) for the first of his three stays at Sclessin.
« I still wanted to play at the highest level. I was only 31 years old. But my father – who had done so much for me – asked me to not go too far away. He signed me a check for me to buy my contract from Roger Petit. Roger simply called up the bank diretor to find out if it was covered. A handshake, goodbye and not even a ‘thank you very much’ after 13 seasons in the first team! » And off he went to … RFC Liegeois.
From Sclessin to Rocourt, he definitely lost his status as a red Devil with 33 caps: « From the top 3, I was fighting suddenly to not get relegated (note: with a 15th, a 14th and a 16th place out of 18) … » But, let’s be honest, it is especially the passage between Raymond Goethals and Guy Thijs whch determined his career with the national team, with Thijs prefering Erwin Van den Daele from Bruges.
He then returned to Zichen-Zussen-Bolder (1979-1981) to finish at Vlijtingen Vlug en Vrij (1981-1983) before finally putting away his shoes in 1984, at the age of 39, at Herderen Hedra. He will try a single adventure as a coach, seduced by the project of ACHE (Hemptinne Eghezée), but too big a mess to be successful.
And when we met him, at the Football-Cycling event organized by William Waseige, Robert’s son, in Bressoux, he was able to measure his popularity intact alongside his friends Léon Semmeling and Henri Depireux. My biggest memories? « If I have to remember three moments, I would say our three games against AC Milan (1), our victory in Madrid (2) and my goal in the final of the Belgian Cup against Anderlecht (3)… »
(1) In the quarter-finals of the European Cup Winners’ Cup, Standard snatch a test-match against the great AC Milan (Cudicini, Schnellinger, Rivera, Hamrin, Prati, etc …) of the time. Although the location of that thrid game should have been decidedby draw, the legend wants that Roger Petit sold that advantage to Milan for 2.5M BEF, which he used to buy Wilfried Van Moer, who would lead the team to future succeses at and for Standard.
(2) In the 1/16 finals of the European Champion Clubs’ Cup, Standard kicked out Real Madrid: 1-0 at Sclessin with a goal from Erwin Kostedde, but especially a legendary success at Santiago Bernabeu, 2- 3 after leading 0-1 (Pilot, 7’), 1-2 (Depireux, 24’) and 2-3 (Galic, 70’, with his first touch of the ball). René Hauss fielded Piot, Beurlet, Jeck, Dewalque, Thissen, Pilot, Van Moer, Depireux, Takac, Cvetler and Kostedde (Galic 69’).
(3) On June 8, 1966, at the Heysel Stadium (32,452 spectators), the goal of Nicolas Dewalque in the 32nd minute offers the Belgian Cup against the great rival (1-0). Michel Pavic aligned Dignef; Vliers, Van Schoonbeek, Dewalque, Spronck, Beurlet, Pilot, Semmeling, van den Berg, Wegria and Paeschen.
(c) Christian Raspiller – October 2019
Birth: 20 September 1945, in Zichen-Zussen-Bolder
Affiliated at Standard: 1 July 1962 – 30 June 1976
Trophies with Standard: 3x Belgian Championships (1969, 1970, 1971), 2x Belgian FA Cup (1966, 1967), 1X Belgian League Cup (1975)
International games / goals: 33 / 0
1961 – 1962
1962 – 1963
S.C. Zichen-Zussen-Bolder (5845)
Royal Standard Club Liégeois
1963 – 1976
1976 – 1979
1979 – 1981
1981 – 1983
1983 – 1984
Royal Standard Club Liégeois
Royal Football Club Liégeois (4)
S.C. Zichen-Zussen-Bolder (5845)
Vlijtingen Vlug en Vrij (5776)
Football Club Herda Herderen (5708)
1998 – 1999
Belgian F.A. Cup
Belgian League Cup
Belgian F.A. Cup
Belgian League Cup