The story of Willem Van Hanegem

Van Hanegem has one advantage over me.  When I have a bad game I am useless.  When Van Hanegem has a bad game, he rolls up his sleeves and starts tackling.


Many people especially those not from Holland assume that Ajax are the the football club that were solely responsible for how football was being played in the 1970s.  Over the years that has been helped by the arrogance and elitism of Amsterdam and Ajax.  Yes, the likes of Rinus Michels, Johan Cruyff and Ajax had an important part to play but Feyenoord were also a big and crucial part of this revolution, especially in the 1974 World Cup.  Andries Oosterveen tells the story of Willem Van Hanegem is one such story that supports that.

To many people in the world the name of Willem Van Hanegem may mean very little if anything.  Within Holland and to those especially associated with Feyenoord and the Dutch national team he is still remembered and very well respected.  Ajax had their hero and talisman in Johan Cruijff and Feyenoord has theirs in Wim Van Hanegem or as he is more commonly referred to as De Kromme which in English means ‘The Crooked’.  Van Hanegem received this nickname due to his bent passes and bent posture which would be typical of his style of play.

De Kromme’s playing career spanned 21 years where apart from a short spell in the USA with the Chicago Sting, he played the rest of his career at clubs in Holland.  Namely Velox SC, Xerxes, AZ67, FC Utrecht and twice for Feyenoord – the club where he would become both a legend as a player and as a manager in the future.  It is no surprise that in the club shop at De Kuip stadium that the face of Van Hanegem is shown more than any other player both past and present as such is his legendary status.

Too slow and too one-dimensional.  Not suited for modern football


Van Hanegem was 24 when he signed for Feijenoord after being seen as not being good enough for Ajax and Rinus Michels.  He joined a team that was full of legends and household names such as Wim Jansen, Rinus Israel, Coen Moulijn, Ove Kindvall and legendary manager Ernst Happel.  It was a perfect combination as both were physically intimidating, strongminded and very technically adept.  During his time there he was part of the first Dutch club to win the European Cup in 1970, he won the Intercontinental Cup also in 1970, three Eredivisie titles in 1969, 1971 and 1974, one UEFA Cup in 1974 and two KNVB Cups in 1969 and 1978.

Later on he would return to Feijenoord as coach between 1992 and 1995 where he would also show that he had the capabilities to be a successful manager where he proved it by winning the Eredivisie title in 1993 and two KNVB cups back to back in 1994 and 1995.

But what type of player was Van Hanegem?  He was a tough tackling midfielder and an excellent passer of the ball, hence the origin of his nickname De Kromme.  He was not the fastest but read the game very well.  Alongside Wim Jansen, Arie Haan and Wim Suurbier, De Kromme provided the physical side and aggression that allowed Holland to control the tempo of the game whilst Johan Cruijff’s leadership reinforced Rinus Michels’ Ajax philosophy of play.  The precision, variety and quality of Van Hanegem’s passing in the 1974 World Cup to Cruyff and Rep played a big role in enabling Cruyff to win the award for ‘Best Player of the Tournament’.

But not all of Van Hanegem’s life is about success and great moments.  He was born in 1944 in Breskens in Zeeland where at this time the second world war was still being fought and Holland was under German occupation.  A combination of carpet bombing from the Allies and German Occupation led to the loss of his father, his sister and two of his brothers.  Later on in in his life he never forgave the Germans for this.

The life and footballing career of Wim Van Hanegem has been one of a variety of emotions, achievements, personal success and tragedy.  However, what is clear is that he is a fighter, a role model, a survivor, a warrior and an example that there is more to football than mansions, big salaries and fast cars.


Click on Andries name above to follow him on Twitter.

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