Johan Cruyff famously said: “There are four people on the planet I will listen to if it’s about football. Wim Jansen is one of them.”
He was head coach for only a brief spell, but he made a big impression in that role. Just google how Celtic honoured him after his passing to understand the impact he made there.
In Rotterdam, there are stands named after Willem van Hanegem and even after club masseur Gerard Meijer. There is a statue for Coen Moulijn, but there isn’t even a toilet named after Wim Jansen, the man who gave everything for the club as player and coach.
He wa honoured recently with a biography, called “Mastermind”. This was not a title Wim Jansen would have picked. He did collect a lot of football intel, but always simply to share it with whoever wanted to listen. And people did listen to him. Where other grandmasters of the game, such as Cruyff and Van Hanegem, enjoyed the spotlights, Jansen decided to limit his knowledge transfer to the insiders, the youth coaches, the interested clubs and football developers. He didn’t need to be on TV or leading first teams as a coach, per se.
Two football professors…
Jansen doesn’t like the limelight and when something doesn’t work for him, he’ll grab his coat and leaves. He won’t raise his voice, or start an argument. At Feyenoord and Celtic, he decided to leave it all behind. His wife Coby didn’t even ask about how that would work out financially. Wim Jansen always took mental independence over financial independence (but don’t worry, Jansen was able to invest himself to riches with shares).
When you look at his career, it’s a bit of a hotchpotch. Started at Lokeren in Belgium as head coach. Then SVV. Made his way to Feyenoord obviously, spent six weeks in Saudi Arabia, a few years in Japan and 10 months Celtic. And some 10 years or so, he wouldn’t do much. Just walking about at the youth academy of Feyenoord, where he’d mentor youth coaches and scout talents.
Rinus Israel, the concrete defender who won the European Cup and World Cup with Jansen, asked him as assistant in 1986 at Feyenoord. “I knew all about Wim’s loyalty and about his books full of know-how. I only had to tell him briefly what I needed for a practice session and Wim would grab sheets of paper from his files and work out amazing practices.”
Wim Jansen and assistant Geert (not Gerard) Meijer at Feyenoord
Wim Jansen takes the reins after Pim Verbeek almost kills the club. Legend Jozsef Kiprich – cult hero #1 in Holland – plays his first match in 1989 and has to run for his life when angry supporters took the field. That season would result in a terrible 0-6 loss versus PSV. Only 1,5 years later, Feyenoord is heading towards relegation. Wim Jansen takes over from Verbeek and coaches Feyenoord to a 0-1 win in Eindhoven for the national cup. They’d win the cup that season. Jansen always compared his work with the work of a builder. You got to start with a solid foundation. And with John de Wolf, Ed de Goey, Henk Fraser and John Metgod there definitely is a foundation. With strongholders Peter Bosz and Rob Witschge in midfield and the mercurial forwards like Taument, Regi Blinker and Jozsef Kiprich.
Jansen introduces a 5-2-3 system and turns the team into a winning team. Ulrich van Gobbel: “It was all about football. All his practices were with a ball. Under Verbeek, it was a lot of running. Jansen didn’t care how much you slept, how many beers you drank or how often you had sex. All these things control freak Verbeek wanted to know about.”
Gaston Taument: “A famous saying about coaches is “you are as good as the material you have”, well… Bengtson and Verbeek had the same squad and didn’t get anywhere. Jansen made a difference. He was the man of the details. I remember I was often with my back to the opponent’s goal. The first thing he did was telling me to be side on, so I could see more and I was able to spin easier and go forward. It sounds like a detail, but it changed everything for me.”
Jansen takes the club from the 16th position to the 4th in the table and wins the Cup. He wants to step back, take the Technical Director role and selects Hans Dorjee as the new coach. In March, Dorjee has to step back due to health issues and Jansen comes back in. And again Wim Jansen wins the National Cup with Feyenoord. Another season later, he selects his friend and former team mate Willem van Hanegem as head coach. Jansen will focus on the Feyenoord Academy.
Van Hanegem and Jansen visiting their mentor Ernst Happel for the last time…
Jansen works at Feyenoord on a handshake. He’s not a man for contracts. “That is how I like it. If I don’t want the job anymore, or if Feyenoord doesn’t want me, it’s easier to walk away.” The interview had as headline: “I could be gone in two seasons”. Nonsense, of course. Wim Jansen would be with Feyenoord for life. Or would he….
In 1993, Van Hanegem wins the title with Feyenoord again, at long last. With a squad composed by his neighbour and friend Wimpie. But there is something brewing. Jansen is a highly disciplined man and football coach. Willem van Hanegem is an intuitive and unfathomable man and coach. The reins are loose. Willem doesn’t require discipline in his squad. Jansen wants to discuss it. Willem doesn’t get it. Chairman Van de Herik refuses to join in the discussion and Wim Jansen knows enough. He shakes hands, grabs his coat and is off. He has been feeling agitated for months and can’t handle it any longer.
Wimpie and Willem in better days
Leo Beenhakker is Saudi Arabia NT coach, for the WC 1994 in the US. He decides to call Jansen: “Would you know a good assistant for me?” And to his surprise, Jansen says “I want to come!”. But things pan out differently. The draw puts Oranje with Dick Advocaat in the same group as Beenhakker’s Saudi Arabia and when the two coaches have a somewhat comedic tv interview about it, the Saudi Arabia football federation wants to make some changes. Beenhakker: “We were at trainings camp somewhere and we’re playing cards in the evening. Some assistant of the prince enters the room and wants our attention. Wimpie actually had a great hand, and turns half to say “hang on mate, I have a great hand, we want to play this game first.” And the guy shouts “You are all fired!” We did finish the game, of course.
Jansen missed his opportunity to coach at a World Cup but he does decide to leave his old stomping ground to go to Japan. When Celtic needs a new head coach, somehow Johan Cruyff is asked for advice. Without a blinking he mentions Jansen’s name. The Scottish media believe Arthur Jorge will be the new coach. The ex manager of Porto, Benfica, PSG and the NTs of Switzerland and Portugal is a marquee name. But when the new coach – Wim Jansen – is presented in Scotland, the media are puzzled. “Wim who??”. Only a handful realise that this is the goal scores in the 1970s semi finals which would put Feyenoord opposite Celtic in the Finals. One of the newspapers describe the new coach as “a man with the charisma of a shy librarian who is absent mindedly trying to find his pen.”
Some of the media are ruthless and shameful, saying things like “The worst thing to hit Hiroshima since the atom bomb”, a reference to Jansen’s Japanese employer Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
High point in his short Celtic career
Jansen realises Celtic hasn’t got any money and a squad in need to refreshing. He is able to bring Henke Larsson to Scotland, up until today he is the best Celtic signing ever. And after a breathtaking competition, Jansen wins the title after 9 straight Rangers’ wins in the last game of the season. Skipper Tommy Boyd would say: “Wim Jansen is the father, the architect and inspiration of this title. We need some time to get used to him, but what he does works. May he stay here with us for a long time!”
People buy green-white curly whigs, shirts with “1
0 in a row” with a strike-through the zero and in the last weeks, the fans sing a Wim Jansen song. “There is only one Wim Jansen, one Wim Jansen, One Wim Jansen… he’s got curly hair, but we don’t care, walking in a Jansen Wonderland”.
Two days later, Jansen decides to leave the club. Usually, you need to stay for many years at a club to become a legend. Jansen manages it in one season. When he visits Scotland in 2017 and happens to drive past the Celtic stadium, he’s surprised to see a huge banner with his face on it.
His last coaching job, as assistant at Feyenoord
In 2005, he would return to Feyenoord in the role of technical advisor. His work in the background is shelved when he decides to assist Gert Jan Verbeek for the 2008/09 season. The head coach is fired seven months in and in typical fashion, Wim Jansen remains loyal and leaves as well.
But he never really left. He simply went across to the Youth Academy, to watch the talents and to chat about football. Back to basics, where it all started. Wimpie will always be simply Wimpie.