Ruud Doevendans

Ruud Doevendans has been an official columnist for a Dutch club and owns one of the largest collections of soccer videos containing hundreds of World Cup matches. We at PWC are proud to have him as a columnist. He will share his views about the past, present and future of the World Cup.

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My clash with the Nigerian World Cup coach

    Once upon a time, I was a talented goalkeeper. A lot of people, among them prominently myself, thought I was, but there was one tiny problem. The head coach of my club Columbia had other ideas. He said to me that there was one person in the club, who had to be considered a better shotstopper than me. So that meant the second team for me, for the second year in a row. At least, that’s what he wanted. As usual, stubborn as I was, I thought I knew better, so I told him I was willing to do many things, but playing in the second team was not one of them. “Trainer, would you please listen to me? If you want your team to be champion next year, give me the number 1 jersey. Just like last year, it will take something really special to beat me the coming season”, that’s about what I told him. His answer that, looking merely at the goalkeeper qualities, I was the better of the two, but that my opponent was much more experienced and fitted better in the very young first team, could not convince me at all. Although I had only two years of goalkeeping-experience behind me. The end of the story was, that I quit the club before the league had started and wasn’t allowed by the Dutch FA to play for another club that whole season. I wish I could turn back time now, but unfortunately I can’t.

    Not being able to play felt like not being permitted to eat. You can sustain for some time, but after a few days you just have to. I trained each week with a friend, but it was fake. After a while it became clear, that I wasn’t the goalie I had been the year before, I lacked match-practice. Now I have always been someone, who chose to attack when I was in trouble. Just read the first lines of this column, and you know it. So I took pencil and paper, and offered my services to three professional clubs: FC Utrecht, Go Ahead Eagles and Vitesse. I could reach these clubs easily by bus or by train, and that was important since I didn’t have a driving-licence then. To my surprise all these three famous clubs invited me to come training with them or to play a testmatch. This could be the turning point in what I thought could be a great career. Now, 17 years later, I must admit it was a mistake. But let’s say that I was young and very ambitious. I can not turn back the time, I told you before.

    So I travelled to Utrecht, only to play a disastrous testmatch there. I had never played so badly, one of the goals against me was a backpass that I really should have saved. Okay, it was an awful backpass, but still. No, this really wasn’t my night, if something was clear it was, that I had not played a soccermatch for many months. After a few days I received a letter: “Dear mr. Doevendans, there is no place for you at FC Utrecht. We’re sorry, but we wish you a lot of success in your further career. We will follow you closely.” Of course I never heard of them again, but this letter was already more than I could have asked for after such a dramatic performance.

    I thought I had a better chance with Go Ahead Eagles in Deventer, when I was invited to train and play with them for a whole week. It was the time when Raymond van der Gouw, nowadays goalkeeper for Manchester United, was second choice goalie for Go Ahead. I must say I did a lot better during this week. I trained well and played two matches, the first one was average but in the second match I played well. I saved a couple of difficult shots, but the other invited goalies were also talents and given they were a few years younger than me, it was obvious that Go Ahead chose another goalie to join them for the next year. Still I was satisfied, my form was increasing.

    That gave me the idea that I had an even better chance with Vitesse, a second division club then. They were a rather poor side in those years, there was no money whatsoever and they couldn’t afford too many good players. Being in Arnhem, I met someone who had an international career in the 90’s. Close followers of the World Cup may remember him. His name: Clemens Westerhof, the head-coach of Vitesse in that period. He was coach for Nigeria during the World Cup 1994. Westerhof was a man with a bad reputation. And owner of a very, very big mouth. One of my friends, playing in the reserves of Vitesse, had warned me: "Look out for Westerhof, he is not to be trusted. There are a lot of strange things going on at this club. Westerhof can promise you something, but the next day he will not remember."

    Apart of that, he was infamous in Holland for telling lies about his own professional soccer career, that appeared not to have existed at all. So I was a warned man. The training of Westerhof, then a more than ten year veteran as coach in Dutch soccer, was worse than you could ever imagine. I never saw something like that, it was laughable. He let the players just play 6-against-6 games each time, in which he took part himself. His only intention - being a little, overweight man who of course wasn't able to offer any resistance to the much younger and more or less well-trained players - was to score as many goals as possible himself, shooting every ball he got towards goal. They did nothing else, there were no corrections from the coach on any aspect. It was just pastime. Experienced players, like former Dutch international player Harry Lubse, were just smiling, shrugged their shoulders and did nothing at all during these trainingsessions. Maybe that’s why Vitesse did so badly that year.

    But this Clemens Westerhof appeared to be very pleased with my goalkeeping abilities. And I must say I played a good testmatch and was also in great shape during training. For Clemens Westerhof there was no better goalie than Ruud Doevendans, it seemed. After one of those trainings, he took me out to the “Monnikenhuize” Stadium. CW Superstar, utterly convinced of himself, would make it hot for me and he tried to defeat me time after time from 20 metres distance. But I saved one shot after the other. My finest hour had finally arrived. “Son”, he said to me, “next week we will be playing a friendly match against an amateur side, and I want you to play the whole match”. I didn’t need more, I had passed this first examination. And in this game he had invited me for, again I played well. Although I conceded a silly penaltykick, everyone was satisfied. The following week I played another game against an Apeldoorn Amateur XI, again with good result.

    After that game, I thought it was the right moment to do business, and I asked Westerhof whether he was going to take me to Vitesse or not. “Son”, it became a ritual, “son, I want you to join Vitesse. Next tuesday at 7 I will be at your home to discuss matters. But anyway, I want you at Vitesse next year.” That was just what I wanted to hear. The following tuesday, I was ready at an early stage to receive the headcoach of Vitesse Arnhem, my club for the next year. I was still living at my parent’s house, and my mother had made a good cup of coffee with a nice applepie. She wouldn’t leave anything to luck, this night her beloved son’s career would start. But there was one, little problem. Westerhof didn’t show up. It became 7.30, 8.00, 8.30 and 9.00, but no Westerhof. I got nervous. At last, at about 10.00, the telephone rang. “Ruud D-Doevendans sp-speaking”, I stuttered. “Yes, Westerhof here”, I heard at the other end. Relief and indignation fought for priority in the whirlpool of my thoughts. What came then:

Westerhof: “Son, listen to me. I am a little late.”
Me, sharpwitted: “Yeah, that’s right. The applepie is becoming mouldy in the refrigerator.”
Westerhof: “It’s my daughter’s birthday, you know. My suggestion is that I can be with you at midnight.”
Me: “I’m sorry mister Westerhof, but since I’m living at my parental house I can not receive you at midnight.”
Westerhof, apparently angered: “Now you listen to me, it’s tonight or never. If I can not be with you at midnight, this is all over!”
Me, trying to save things: “But mister Westerhof, why can’t we set up another meeting. Even if I want to, I can not receive you this late, couldn’ t you have realized last week that today would be your daughter’s birthday?”

    It’s better to stop the quotation here, because he got really mad at me. He started calling names and used very abusive language. I was frightened to death, since I saw a whole career go up in smoke. I tried to persuade him, but in vain: he had already hang up. That was my career as a professional footballplayer, prematurely ended. After that, I had a nice career as an amateur goalkeeper, but I was never invited to play professional soccer again. I had to accept it. Although I would have loved it to join Vitesse, or whatever professional club.

    Later, after virtually being axed from Dutch soccer, Clemence Westerhof moved to Africa, and was appointed coach of Nigeria at the World Cup 1994. For me, it was the ultimate evidence that you do not need to be a great trainer-coach to make it to the World Cup. Can you imagine, this man has been the coach of Rasheed Yekini, of Daniel Amokachi, Jay-Jay Okocha, Finidi George and Stephen Keshi! Players of international class. To me, that’s unbelievable. He shouldn’t be allowed to train a fourth division team in Nigeria, or wherever. The Nigerian players, sick of his tactical mistakes and disparaging behaviour, threw him out of the dressingroom at half-time during their World Cup match with Italy in 1994. He always called the players and the people from Africa “those blacks”. When he was over in Holland, he often gave interviews saying “Those blacks don’t understand a thing about soccer”, and “I will show those blacks what it takes to be successful”. Awful man! Westerhof had a really good relationship – something he was proud of – with the late dictator colonel Abacha, and to me that tells the whole story. Keep away from this dangerous man, who only lives for one thing: himself.



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