Wim Kieft is quite a tv personality these days. A reluctant people’s man. Shy as a player. Humble. A bit narcy. Got in trouble after his football career, when acting as tv pundit. His sour and critical analyses turned vitriolic and he started to look worse and worse. Until the news broke, that he was dealing with some personal issues. Cocaine and alcohol addictions and as a result personal bankruptcy. He did what most people wouldn’t want to. He beared it all in a book. He went to NA and the AA and quit his addictions. The book “Wim Kieft” became a bestseller in Holland received critical acclaim for the style and honesty. A fit and healthy Kieft is back on TV doing his football analysis. But his tone hasn’t changed. Typical Kieft statements: “This makes me sooo tired…” And “this guy is starting to take himself too serious…”.
Dick Advocaat, Wim Kieft and Johan Derksen
He was one of the youngsters in the Ajax 1981/1982 team, that won the title in Holland, led by one Johan Cruyff…
This interview is not about his 1988 header goal vs Ireland… (“That makes me sooo tired, to have to talk about that header… Before I know it I start to take myself really seriously…”)
Kieft describes the team and relives memories.
“I actually don’t have too many good memories about football, you know. I was not happy with that status. My team buddies in the Ajax youth would go by tram to the complex and carry their bag on the bus in such a manner that everyone saw the Ajax logo. I was the other way around. I was quite embarrassed by the attention. I didn’t want people to see I had an Ajax bag.”
“My best memories are from the Ajax days. I am an Amsterdam born and raised kid. And Ajax was my club. But, it was better for them that I would leave. Marco van Basten was getting ready for Ajax 1 and he was a super player. I was a bumbling idiot compared to him. So I had to go. Cor Coster, Cruyff’s father in law, brought me to Pisa, in Italy. Ever since, I couldn’t really enjoy the life of a player anymore.”
“I played in a sensational team in Eindhoven. PSV was strong: Romario, Lerby, Gerets, van Breukelen, Vanenburg… Great team. But I never really enjoyed it. Hardly have any good memories from those days. It was work. Nothing more. Training, go home. Match, go home.”
“I didn’t have the right personality for football player. Those galas… The time I had to pick up the Golden Boot for Europe… I was on stage with Platini… The players there… It was so daunting. I threw up before and when I had the award I slipped out to go back to the hotel. I wanted to go home.”
“I didn’t really celebrate my goals. I hated the attention. Marco and Johan could run and jump and pump their fists.. I was the end station of a good attack and I usually had the easy job. I couldn’t run across half the pitch and jump up like a super star. That isn’t me. I would want to know me if I was like that. I was not gifted. I had a talent for scoring and I needed to work really hard.”
Wim Kieft made it through the Ajax youth ranks. Not the typical gifted velvetty technician like Vanenburg, Schip or Van Basten. But a born goal getter. Fearless header of the ball. And as time went on, became a perfect forward playmaker (playing with 10) at PSV, guiding Romario and Ronaldo to goals.
Piet Schrijvers, Wim Kieft, Johan Cruyff, La Ling, Dick Schoenaker, Frank Rijkaard, Jesper Olsen, Gerald Vanenburg, Soren Lerby, Wim Jansen, Peter Boeve
The Ajax 1981/1982 team as remembered by Willem Kieft.
Piet Schrijvers: “The best goalie I ever played with. Imposing dude. Fearless. Amazing reflexes and speed in responding to anything coming his way. But maybe not speedy when coming out of his goal. But it didn’t matter, he either had the ball or the man. Was a bully of a man, big mouth, but really a heart of gold. He was chair of the players committee and would plan everything for us. But we took the piss at times. In 1981 we lost for the Europa Cup away, at Bayern 5-1. Drama. The financial manager of Ajax saw the profitable home game evaporating. Who would pay money to see us play that game, right? So when we got in the plane, in Munich, it was just after midnight. And Frank Rijkaard, deadpan, walks up to Schrijvers and points at his watch and says “Piet, it’s midnight now, could you talk to the financial manager please and ask for overtime payment for this?” Piet had already had a couple of Bacardi Coca Colas and stumbled through the plane to make this totally inappropriate request. The financial manager looked at Piet as if he was just pissed on, hahahahaha. Classic. But Piet was golden, he arranged my whole wedding festivities when I got married… Was a blast. The marriage didn’t last. But that was not Piet’s fault.”
Wim Kieft: “Really? Do you need me to talk about me? Well, I won the Golden Boot in Europe that season but truth be told, we had a tremendously attacking team. Playing with Cruyff behind you is the best a striker can have. He’d pass a player and prepare a shot or a dink and I would think “ah well, I better run after the ball, to see if I can pick up the spoils” and that happened so often. I had balls returning from the post or spilled balls from the goalie. Or, Johan would see me go and would reward me with a through ball. It wasn’t too hard. I was picking up the crumbs Cruyff left for me. Some of these goals were easy. And some people then say “yes but you need to be in the right spot” and I guess that is true but some people will probably say “ah well, you were lucky”. I think both things are true. I received lots of protection from Cruyff as well, in the group. He was very good for me. Because he could see I was working like a beast to get everything out of myself, as I was not a great talent. He used to be really tough on Van Basten, Vanenburg and Rijkaard. They were top talents. Marco left the practice ground crying more than once.”
Johan Cruyff: “He was my idol. I was crazy about him. It was a tremendous honour to have played with him. I have had an ok career and made a bit of mess of my life later, but having played with Cruyff is like… a life well spent hahaha. He used to train with us, before Ajax signed him again. He was 34 years old but fit man. So when he made his debut that season vs Haarlem, this zing went through the stadium, the vibe was awesome. He started nervous and anxious, but then he had that little dribble and the tremendous lob from the edge of the box and the crowd went mad and he lost all the tension in his body and played like a champ. I scored two goals that day and one from a Cruyff cross. I was too embarrassed to cheer. He put the ball on my forehead and I had to just head it in. It was his goal, not mine… With Cruyff back Dutch football got a shot in the arm. The stadiums were full, everyone wanted to see him. And we didn’t lose another game. We were quite a stretch behind PSV but when JC came, we won everything and won the title at the end. There was some resistance when Johan returned. Some of the older players didn’t like Cruyff’s tendency to tell everyone how the world worked and all that. Wise guy :-). Soren Lerby was the captain and he saw Cruyff as a threat, a bit. So Lerby started to become really vocal and dominant and they were the two alpha dogs. And Johan could be really mean in those situations. I remember a game where Johan was bringing the ball up from midfield and he was slowing down and gesticulating to Lerby “Come on come on push on” with his hands and voice to be able to play the ball to Soren… So when Lerby sprinted forward to collect the ball, Cruyff turned the other way and opened on the other wing yelling “you’re too fucking slow!” to Lerby.”
Tscheu La Ling: “Our right winger… A beautiful artist. Typical winger. Totally independent. On and off the pitch. Uncoachable guy. He was a bit older than us but he liked us, he loved to hang with us. And players like Rijkaard and myself looked up to him. He was a playboy. One day on trainings camp on Curacao he took us to this private beach… Just us, a bar with cocktails, and a bunch of hot girls, hahaha. We thought that was awesome. But somehow I became Ling’s rival on the pitch. The coaches felt it didn’t work with Ling AND Cruyff AND Kieft. So he was the first out of the line up. Kurt Linder needed to find some balance. But the Ajax supporters adored Ling, he had his own group of fans who would move sides after the break with him and would run with him on the flanks, hahaha. So they protested like crazy, and then Linder sacrificed me… I had 23 goals to my name and I was benched. I was quite confused. But two games later I was back in the team. I think JC made that happen. Tscheu was a gifted player but a bit lazy and tactically uninterested, hahaha. He never reached his potential I think. He played 14 international games for Holland. Should have been much more. Him and Rene van der Gijp were wonderful wingers but more interested in other things, hahaha.”
Johan about to score the infamous goal vs Haarlem
Dick Schoenaker: “He was Mr Balance in our team. We had a number of chiefs but he was a true Indian. A wonderful runner. Box to box. Fearless in the challenges. And he could score too! Not your typical Ajax player though. He had lungs, unreal. First he ran his heart out of his chest for Ling, and when Cruyff came he did it for Cruyff AND Ling… He was from the East, a rural kid. He used to be bullied and ridiculed a lot. Older players like Krol and Suurbier would have a real go at him, because he was an easy target. He wouldn’t say anything back. Modest guy, but invaluable for the team. A real team player and really nice bloke.”
Frank Rijkaard: “Frank was a bit dreamy, but Wim Jansen was very important for him. Jansen took him by the hand and taught him what it takes to be a defender. When Jansen joined us, Rijkaard developed so fast. Wim Jansen’s coaching was tremendous for Rijkaard. The year before he played with Kees Zwamborn, with all due respect. I had a great relationship with Frank. He was modest. But also sensitive. The vibe at Ajax was quite cynical. Cruyff, Lerby, Krol, Ling… all tough guys, real machos. Players like Rijkaard and later Van ‘t Schip didn’t deal well with that. Rijkaard would close himself off from that stuff. But he was no softie. Just not interested in bullying. Rijkaard is a very funny chap, by the way. Dry humour. And like Ling, a totally independent thinker. He tried to get Ruud Gullit to Ajax, but Ajax wasn’t convinced of his qualities. Ruud and Frank played street football together.”
Jesper Olsen: “Ooh he was good… Jesper was Soren’s protegy. Both Danish of course. He was a tremendous worker, that kid and what a technique. A real Ajax winger. They don’t make them anymore, it seems. He was also very consistent. Wingers tend to be a bit inconsistent, but not Jesper. He was always on. Nice bloke but these Danish guys, they’re all perverts hahaha. Loved yelling dirty words to people. Lots of humour and lots of swagger too. He was not scared of anyone and we had some tough guys in our squad. But he would get up and smile and wink. He didn’t start too well by the way, and like me he started to play better and better alongside Johan.”
Wim Jansen, Kurt Linder and Jesper Olsen
Gerald Vanenburg: “Gerald was such a sensational player already when he was 17 years old. Unbelievable, what he could do with a ball. One of the biggest talents I’ve seen come up. Him, Seedorf, Van der Vaart… Vaantje was 16 when he made his debut. And I think he scored a sensational goal on his debut. The problem with Gerald was that he thought he was a leader in the team and very important. Too many people in his ear. And statistically he was important, but not as a personality. The practice matches were tougher for us than the real matches. We were getting really good. Gerald scored a lot too, as offensive midfielder. What a technique! Opponents wanted to kick him in half but couldn’t get to him :-). I played with him later at PSV as well. Gerald was seen as a bit up himself but that is not the case. In 1988 he had to change his role from playmaker to more a waterbearer and he took that role well. He played very good against West Germany in the semi finals. People rave about Van Basten in that tournament but Erwin Koeman and Gerald Vanenburg were very important for us. Sadly, Cruyff said some bad things about Vaan and that carried a long while. When Gerald moved to PSV Cruyff was coach at Ajax and dissed him a bit, taunting him with his high voice. That wasn’t necessary I thought.”
Soren Lerby: “Soren was winner. Tremendous power and what a left foot. He was tough on the pitch, for himself, his mates and particularly the opponent. He was a real leader and managed the vibe in the team. A real party animal, with Frank Arnesen, his buddy. But for us youngsters he was an animal. He would yell at us at any occassion. Soren loved the best of the best. Good watch, expensive cars, good restaurants and expensive women. He would always want to go better and bigger. At some stage, he married (Dutch singer and actress) Willeke Alberti and moved to Belgium. So he invited John van ‘t Schip and myself and our wives for dinner one night. All was nice, beautiful setting and Willeke had made this amazing pasta. Soren takes one bite and drops his spoon and yells “Goddammit what kind of shit are you serving us!!” and exploded. That was Soren, nothing was good enough. But we would become close mates later, at PSV.”
Wim Jansen: “The perfect professional. What a player. He saw the game so well. The yin to Cruyff’s yang. Wim was midfielder at Feyenoord alongside Willem van Hanegem but played libero for us. He would never lose the ball and his passing was perfect. Always the right pace, the right angle, to the right foot… Incredible player. And always coaching, talking. He is a very good man. Patient, and always had time for you. This is what I liked about him and Cruyff most. The best players on the planet, but modest, sweet and helpful. This football world is full of egos and inflated personalities but Cruyff and Jansen always remained who they were. Interested and respectful. Top lads.”
Peter Boeve: “A very offensive back. Sweet kid. Hard working. He was a bit serious and really strived for the appreciation of the big name players. And they knew that so they never gave him any, hahaha. He was a health freak. Always stretching. Before practice, after practice. When we were playing pool he was stretching. When we were boozing he was still stretching, hahaha. He kept on going, in the matches. A totally committed lad. Nice guy.”
Frank Arnesen, Ruud Krol and Soren Lerby in front of the old Ajax home
Marco van Basten: “Marco wasn’t part of this team as yet, but was coming through alright. I mention him because people at Ajax and in the media loved to make this huge rivalry between us. But there wasn’t any. I think Marco was and is a great guy. Just a nice guy with sensational talent. I could see then that Marco would be much better for Ajax 1 than me. No problem. He is the best striker ever, for me. I was just a hard working guy who could score, but Marco was an artist. We never had any trouble together nor were we bothered with that stuff going on.”
Coach Kurt Linder: “I wasn’t impressed. He wasn’t really good. German… Very disciplined and stern. We would do these German style pre-season trips, going to the gym and running in the hills. God, I hated that. We all did. We would have dinner together and we all asked for beer with dinner. We were allowed only one. But one player didn’t need that beer so Piet Wijnberg – substitute – drank that. Linder exploded and we couldn’t stop laughing when that happened. He didn’t like me much I feel. He was always out to “keep me sharp” for some reason. Once we flew back from some overseas winter trip and when we landed in Amsterdam we had to go and train immediately. We were all groggy and jetlagged. He almost attacked me when I did something wrong. He thought I was screwing around and he yelled “YOU! You have to train harder! You are still young and you must work hard!!” in my face. I was fed up and yelled back “Fuck off with your bullshit!”. So he suspended me. But one week later I was back in the team. I think Johan arranged that. Because obviously Cruyff was the boss, not Linder, hahaha.”
Where are they now? Piet Schrijvers (68) is currently awaiting a new challenge as keepers trainer. Johan Cruyff (68) writes columns and is advisor at Ajax and Barcelona. Tscheu La Ling (59) manages his company in supplements and owns a club in the Czech Republic. Dick Schoenaker (63) used to own an insurance company and is on the board of Ajax. Frank Rijkaard (53) cycles through the Vondel Park at times and drinks coffee in the Hilton Hotel. Jesper Olsen (54) lives in Melbourne and works at a Football Academy. Gerald Vanenburg (51) manages his daughter, a top tennis talent. Soren Lerby (57) lives in Marbella and runs a football management business. Wim Jansen (69) works in the Feyenoord youth academy. Peter Boeve (58) is coaching amateur team Apeldoorn. Kurt Linder (82) is retired.
Note: Johan was not offered another deal the next season as the board figured “Johan was getting too old”. He was pissed off as only he can be and his buddy Willem van Hanegem lured him to Feyenoord. During the farewell match for De Kromme, Cruyff was introduced to the Feyenoord legion. He scored in that match and signed a deal for one season. Wearing Van Hanegem’s number 10, Cruyff helped Feyenoord win the double in the 1983/84 season.