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Richard Witschge

July 29, 2011

One of my all-time favourite players is Richard Witschge. A very talented footballer from Amsterdam, he was the younger brother of Rob Witschge and a product of the famed Ajax youth academy from the same generation as Bergkamp, de De Boer brothers and Bryan Roy. Johan Cruijff gave him his debut for Ajax aged 17 on the left flank and he made that flank his. He made the Dutch squad for the World Cup 1990, which was memorable for other reasons and went on to play 31 times for Oranje.

When Johan Cruijff left for Barcelona in 1991, he took Witschge with him knowing very well what Witschge is capable of. In that Barcelona team, Witschge was made to play a hanging left back – that is to start in left back but shift forward in possession as a left midfielder. Unfortunately, at the time Barcelona could only field 3 foreigners at the time and Witschge had to compete with Ronald Koeman, Romario, Michael Laudrup and Hristo Stoichkov for a starting place. Not very easy. Add to that some injuries and Witschge’s stay wasn’t entirely successful (although certainly should not be anywhere on a list of “failed foreigners at Barcelona”).

He moved on to Bordeaux in 1993 where he became an important player, playing alongside a certain Zinedine Zidane. Zidane would later say: “The best player I ever saw was not Johan Cruyff or Michel Platini. His name is Richard Witschge and I had the honour to play with him in Bordeaux.” At one point he was loaned out to Blackburn, where he played 1 game during their successful championship winning season.

While Witschge was playing abroad, Ajax was gaining success, first winning the UEFA Cup in 1992 then the Champions League in 1995 with mostly players from his generation. In 1996 Witschge returned to Ajax and basically missed the glory days. The arrival of Co Adriaanse as coach in 2000 pushed him out as they clashed openly and publicly. He went to Alaves for a year in 2001, before returning back and played an important role as mentor to some of the younger players like Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder and Maxwell. In 2003 he quit save for a brief cameo in Japan in 2004.

But it’s not just his career that interests me, it’s his attitude. He was a real Amsterdammer and had the arrogance that suited Ajax to a T. He was also a practical joker. Early in his career, Leo Beenhakker singled him and Bryan Roy out as the “patatgeneratie” (literally means french fries generation), players that are lazy, relying too much on talent and not hard work and did not look after what they ate. Witschge’s response was a brilliant one. During a trip, their bus stopped close to a snackbar (a small food stall). He bought a plate of french fries and made a picture together with some other players (if I’m not mistaken Bergkamp, one of the de Boer bros and Roy were in it too – I saw the pic once but cannot find it on the internet). The picture obviously made furore. Later on Witschge admitted that it was a joke and that he doesn’t even like french fries.

As a player, Witschge had it all. Vision, an eye for goal, speed, flair, and wonderful technique. He could pass the ball anywhere on the field. He could free up space for anyone. He barely lost the ball. And he has scored some outrageous goals. Injuries held him back a bit as did his Amsterdamse attitude. Johan Cruijff could work around that attitude (Cruijff having a similar attitude like Witschge in his playing days) but didn’t work with uber-disclipinarian Co Adriaanse.

Ask any Ajax fan and they will say that he is a legend. In 1997 Ajax were cruising 4-0 against archrivals Feyenoord at home. Shota Arveladze flicked the ball with his back heel to Witschge and he ran the entire left flank while doing keepy-uppies. It was the ultimate act of kicking your opponent in the balls and all the Ajax fans loved it, similar to what Gerrie Muhren did against Real Madrid. Paul Bosvelt, who was on the pitch for Feyenoord at that time, said that if he was anywhere close to Witschge when he did that he would have hacked and kicked him down very hard.

This youtube compilation shows what he is capable of doing and why he is one of my all-time favorite players.

After his playing career he has gone into coaching and was the assistant of Aron Winter at Jong Ajax. I don’t think he’ll ever make the step up as head coach. He is too laid back for that. He is after all the embodiment of the “patatgeneratie”.


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