In the early 1980s, Utrecht was a hotbed for football talent. The likes of Vanenburg, Van Loen, Godee and Marco van Basten all hailed from the same area, where they played numerous games with and against each other on amateur level, before the big clubs came to swoop them up.
In Amsterdam, talents like Rijkaard, Van ’t Schip, Kieft, Bosman and Gullit made name, while Rotterdam followed with the likes of Mario Been, Danny Blind, Rene Eijer and Rene van der Gijp.
Most if not all of them reached the top. Playmaker John van Loen had to endure a growth spurt and was converted into a striker. Playmaker Edwin Godee did play for Ajax and several rep teams but lacked the quality to reach the senior Oranje team.
One player got away, as they say. Ricky Testa La Muta, best buds with Marco van Basten, made different choices. And disappeared in obscurity. This is his story.
Ricky now, coaching Elinkwijk
Testa la Muta is considered a phenomenon in Utrecht. In the 1990s, the striker was the main man in the top amateur team Holland, of Utrecht. Coached by none other than Willem van Hanegem, the amateur team won the Dutch amateur title twice in a row, with attractive football. While elsewhere in The Netherlands, his friend Marco van Basten was feverishly working on regaining fitness from a long time lingering ankle issue. Marco was not even 30 years old and faced having to go into retirement. After years of suffering and pain, he decided to call it a day. San Marco would relocate from Milan into the anonymity of Monte Carlo and struggled through a dark period of his life. His friend Ricky was by his side whenever Marco needed him. The flamboyant striker with Italian roots never made it to the big stage, to the surprise of many football experts.
Their lives seemed to run along a synchrone thread. Van Basten became the best in the world, Testa La Muta disappeared from the spotlights. The striker with Italian roots: “We played in the A junior team of Elinkwijk. What a fantastic team we had. Edwin Godee was our captain. Ajax scouts came and picked Marco and Edwin. They overlooked me. I was struggling with a knee injury, an injury which back then took a year to deal with. Today’s it’s different. But, Ajax wanted the best and fittest, and I was not part of that group. I would have played for FC Utrecht, but they did not have a youth academy, so that didn’t work. Feyenoord was an option but it was too far away for me to consider. And guess what, a couple of years ago I met Aad de Mos. I politely introduced myself and he looked at me with a question in his eyes. He told me that Ajax was ready to sign me as well. They were following me. So I wondered what happened? Why didn’t they? And by Golly, De Mos simply couldn’t remember why it never happened… Such is life.”
In the Elinkwijk youth, Marco is standing next to the goalie, Ricky sits front row far right
Testa La Muta remembers it all well and was actually counting on a logical move to Amsterdam. “We had such amazing players. I played for a small amateur club when I was younger. We won everything. Until we faced Sterrenwijk. A certain Gerald Vanenburg was their key player. We lost 6-1. Vanenburg scored all six goals, I scored for our team, hahahaha. I remember my dad telling everyone: I thought my son was a good player with promise, but that little Vanenburg… that is a boy wonder!”
I then made a move to Elinkwijk. Gerald played there as well that season, as did Edwin Godee. They were so incredibly good, in midfield. I was the striker and life was relatively easy for me there. We were all part of the Utrecht youth plan. They dd not have a youth academy at the local FC, but this youth plan made sure they kept track of talents. It didn’t work though. The best talents were swooped up by other clubs before FC Utrecht could offer them a deal.”
“Our main competitor in the city was UVV. Marco was their striker and John van Loen was the playmaker, behind Marco. John had a growth spurt later in his youth and had difficulties maintaining his quality. He did become a very good striker of course. The matches between Elinkwijk – UVV were like Feyenoord-Ajax. They really mattered. Half the city thought Marco was the best, the other half thought Vanenburg was the best. By then, we all played rep football for Oranje and we knew each other well.”
Gerald “Vaantje” Vanenburg: magician
The youngster would all develop a strong bond. But Ricky and Marco became really close. “We were all a bit macho in these days. It was cool to hang out with the best. We were good, I tell you, but Gerald Vanenburg was extra ordinary. When he was 8 years old, you could already see that. His touch, his skills, his passing, vision, his dribbles… Unbelievable. He was the Maradona of Holland, really. We all thought Gerald would be the world class super star, and with Marco you felt, he’ll make it to the Eredivisie.”
Van Basten himself thought differently. “That is the weird thing. Marco always said he would be the best of the world. And he wasn’t kidding! He had so much confidence. He also told me numerous times he would become rich. Hell, he even had a statement written on his wall in his bedroom: “I am the Best!”. Funny, coz I thought I was the best, actually, hahahaha.”
Ricky keeps on talking: “We were competitive and the same in many ways. We were both very good ping pong players too, we both played competition. We also both did diving from the high tower, you know? Saltos and that sort of thing. The difference was with school though. Marco was good at learning and his parents really motivated him to do well. I was different. I was a street urchin. But once Marco was on the streets, he was a little prick too, hahaha.”
Marco was introduced to Italy by his own parents, as the Van Bastens would go to Italy for holidays every year. But at the Testa La Muta family, his passion for Italy was further developed. “Marco came from a typical Dutch background. 6 pm dinner was served. At our house, dinner was all the time. Always people around, food aplenty, Marco loved hanging out with us.”
Ricky’s dad was one of the first “guest workers” in Holland. From Sicily. He worked in a factory in Holland and met Ricky’s would be mum there.
In the year that Van Basten, Vanenburg and Godee went to Ajax, a friend of Ricky’s dad decided to help Ricky with his career. The infamous football agent Apollonius Konijnenburg was at a friendly between Helmond Sport- Genoa. Ricky’s family friend was at the game, with Ricky, Marco, Gerald and Godee. That made an impression on Konijnenburg, who obviously knew the Ajax talents.
And as Ricky was part Italian, it meant that he could play in Italy as an Italian. In those days, Italian clubs could only play two non-Italian players. This is what they all thought…
Konijnenburg had some players in Italy already. Jan Peters at Genoa, Michel van de Korput at Torino… He told Ricky “I’ll get you a practice game or two.” Konijnenburg was quite the charismatic wheeler and dealer. Swagger, spoke Italian. Ricky: “He was a fun guy, within 2 weeks I was in Italy. He arranged games at Genoa and Napoli. I was 17 years old and still a kid. Konijnenburg picked me up in his flash Mercedes and we drove to the airport. And I realised: I’m going to Italy with an old guy I don’t even know, hahaha. But he was a fun guy at least.”
“Don’t forget, it’s 1982. Italy just won the World Cup and spirits were high. They put me up in a 5 star hotel on the coast. I was there with Trevor Francis, who lived their as well. He played for Torino. Anyway, I was still suffering a bit from a knee operation I had had… But I played some friendlies and I did pretty good. The coach said: yep, I want him. So they offered me a so-called B contract. When I was back in Holland, in Utrecht, I got cold feet. I had to live in some camp for youth players. I was going out in Utrecht that weekend with my mates, the girls started to notice me and all that and I decided not to go. Also, I ended up not being an Italian for the foreigners rule. I had to be there and play for two seasons before they would see me as an Italian. That was it. I didn’t sign.”
Ricky playing for Pro Patria
“I played for Elinkwijk one season and was signed by FC Utrecht, and played in their C-team. At the same time, my girlfriend got pregnant… It all happened at the same time. I also worked part time in Amsterdam and it all became too much. I was losing interest in football, the fun disappeared and I never broke into the first team of FC Utrecht. I left to play for Volendam, also not a a success and returned to the amateurs of Elinkwijk.”
When Marco van Basten was writing history with Ajax and the Dutch NT, Ricky was in a football hole. He thought his dream was done. Until Konijnenburg called, out of the blue. If he was still interested in playing in Italy. This would be for a club in the Serie C. Pro Patria. He was 22 years old and he realised this would be his last chance. The deal was quite good. “It was a big step, I was a dad and all that, but the club was keen: they got me a home, a car and 50k annual salary. Not bad for those times. The coach wanted me also because of my friendship with Marco and Gerald Vanenburg. The coach invited me to come to this little chateau on the Lake Maggiore, it was paradise. I thought: yep, I’m doing it. Next thing I know, I’m in a trainings camp for four weeks. Four weeks! I thought I went crazy, hahaha.”
Konijnenburg was also instrumental in bringing Gullit and Van Basten to Italy. AC Milan of course. Testa La Muta: “I didn’t even know where Pro Patria played hahaha, but I learned it was close to Milan. And I thought, wow… I need to let Marco know!”
Pro Patria playing a friendly pre-season game vs AC Milan: Marco far right, Ricky next to him
Ricky got a message through to Van Basten and he appeared to live close to him. “When I told him my apartment wasn’t finished, he immediately said: come and live with us! I have a huge home! So I lived with my girlfriend and our little one with Marco and Liesbeth for a spell. Man, did we laugh a lot, we didn’t know what was happening. Marco was a millionaire in one hit, in this Hollywood home. He drove a Lancia Turbo…so here we were, two street kids from Utrecht. Marco also had his Dutch car still, so he threw me the keys to the Lancia. Good times… I’d take the Lancia to the club and found that the owner of Pro Patria drove the same car, haha. Marco and Ruud would come look me up at Pro Patria and I’d hang with them at Milanello. They were like Gods these two. And at one point, Ruud’s mate Rene van der Gijp came to visit as well. We all had lunch at Milanello. All the Italian players drank water, but Ruud and Marco were allowed to drink Coca Cola. Rene asked me where I played: I said Pro Patria. And he said: What is that? The local music band?… Everyone in stitches of course…”
Van der Gijp and Gullit: buddies…
“But it was good. We won games and we lost. When we won, I was the hero. I was quite popular and ate for free whenever we did well, but boy, if we lost… if we lost two in a row, people would throw tomatoes at us, or rocks even!”
Playing in the Serie C was not what Ricky imagined. “Marco got injured and spent a year back in Holland. I was playing in Serie C and even though these guys were all full pro and Pro Patria used to be a Serie A club, the level was terrible. It was rough and violent. They kicked at everything that moved. Not my cup of tea. I played there one season and was able to move to clubs in the Serie A or B but I still had one year to go in the Serie C for my football status as an Italian. I couldn’t do it.”
Ricky does not look back in anger. “I was there with my girl and my little child, it was not the right life for us. If I had been alone, maybe… But the stress when they played at home. They all had white faces and were really stressed if they lost at home. The whole town would be in mourning. So they had pills and doping and injections and shit in the dressing room, the coach didn’t sleep, the chairman was sweating like a pig, it was not healthy.”
Ricky and Marco off the pitch
Marco van Basten had the right personality to survive that jungle. “If I would have stayed another season, I might have made it to a good big club as well. Why not. Wim Kieft scored one goal in his Pisa season and got a transfer to Torino. I know I was good enough, but it simply didn’t work out. And I’m not sorry about my decisions. I played at the amateurs in The Netherlands until I was 33 years old. I won everything you can win, at amateur level. I am now coaching in Holland at Elinkwijk and I can walk the streets and go to a cafe. Marco will always have those spotlights on him and he’s cool with that. I prefer it this way. He hasn’t changed though. He doesn’t like the attention but he can live with it. He’s still as pigheaded as ever, hahaha, always wants to debate everything and he knows exactly what he wants and doesn’t want… With Marco, there is no middle of the road…”
Marco van Basten: “We were close mates when we played together. Competitive, but mates. We had Cruyff as our idol, and Ricky had this amazing poster in his room of Johan. I wanted it, so I would always try and use that as the prize in any game we played. Table tennis, cards, football, hahaha. I always said I was the best, but he did too! We both believed it. When we both ended up in Italy, we became close again. When I left Utrecht for Ajax, we didn’t have much time together, but Liesbeth and I had this big mansion in Italy and Ricky was basically our permanent house guest. We’d eat together and we’d watch each other games. He was a very good player, but forced to make his way to the top via lower levels. Sad, it didn’t happen, that he couldn’t execute what his brain saw…”
Marco is now Chief Innovation Officer at FIFA.
Ricky is head coach at his youth amateur club Elinkwijk
Edwin Godee has gone into business
Gerald Vanenburg was football coach but is currently manager of his talented daughter (tennis)
John van Loen is assistant coach at FC Utrecht
Source: This article was taken from the VI Special Edition “Italy” which was co-edited by Marco van Basten. Expect more cool Italy-related stories (Sneijder, Ruud Krol, San Marco, Stefan de Vrij)